What is a Zhua Zhou first birthday ceremony?

Your beautiful baby just turned one year old! And you survived a year! There’s no better way to celebrate your kiddo’s first birthday than inviting the friends that you haven’t seen in a while -- maybe since your Red Egg ceremony or realistically, sometime before pregnancy -- for some smash cake for the children and champagne for the parents. Good news: there’s also a tradition that you can also incorporate into your birthday celebration called a zhua zhou ceremony, and it’s a fun one.

Originating centuries ago, the zhua zhou ceremony is a mash-up of the Chinese words for “pick” and “first anniversary” and represents the “birthday grab” celebration, similar to the Korean “doljanchi” and Vietnamese “thôi nôi.” A variety of (safe) symbolic objects are laid out in front of the baby for it to grab, indicative of potential future careers, and whatever the baby reaches for and plays with is in the cards for your baby’s employment prospects. It’s also said that the item chosen might indicate future personality types.  

In practice, it’s just a fun way to get you and your guests to root for your dear little one and dream of his or her future stardom. Whether you want your child to have a fulfilling artistic career as a painter, a delicious life as a chef, or you’re already planning for a fully paid retirement home in Maui courtesy of your future doctor/lawyer/banker/entrepreneur, the zhua zhou ceremony is all in good fun. We can all dream, right?

Here are some of the traditional and not so traditional items used for the zhua zhou ceremony:



  • Abacus – financier/business person (or substitute cash)
  • Ball – athlete
  • Book – scholar
  • Brush – artist
  • Calculator – scientist or engineer
  • Celery (芹, qín) – industrious (勤, qín)
  • Cell phone or keyboard – tech entrepreneur
  • Chicken leg – chef
  • Legos – engineer or builder
  • Measuring tape – designer / architect
  • Microphone – entertainer
  • Money – someone who loves money
  • Pen – writer or journalist
  • Shallots (蔥, cōng) - intelligence (聰, cōng)
  • Stamp (like a seal or a stamper) – government officer or civil servant
  • Stationery – a scholar; industrious and literary
  • Stethoscope – doctor
  • Sword – law enforcement / soldier

Have you been to a zhua zhou, dol, or thôi nôi? What did the baby choose?


Top image: photo credit - Emily Yam

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