Modern First Birthday Grab for Baby Gwen

Raising Gwen all by ourselves in the States without help - that is a feat for my husband and me. We decided to throw a big birthday party for Gwen to mark these firsts - Gwen's first birthday and our first year of parenthood as first-time parents.

In addition to the Western-style celebration of a cake smash, we planned an Asian-style first birthday grab, paying homage to our Singaporean Chinese roots. We decided to have the birthday grab ceremony at the party, as a center event so that our guests can join in the fun.

Modern First Birthday Grab for Baby Gwen
Credits: Annabel Liang photography

Background of the First Birthday Grab

The first birthday grab exists in many Asian cultures: "Zhuā Zhōu" for the Chinese, "Doljanchi" for the Koreans, "Thôi Nôi" for the Vietnamese and "Erabitori" for the Japanese, just to name a few.

This historic tradition comes from dynastic times. On the first birthday, a set of symbolic items is placed before the birthday child for her to grab, based on whatever catches her eye. It is thought that the item(s) the child picks may be an indication of the child's future career(s) and employment prospect(s).

It might be telling of the child's future personality type too!

Modifications Made to the Traditional Birthday Grab

The traditional birthday grab typically uses items symbolic of specific careers (like a doctor/lawyer/banker), which are occupations Tiger parents are known to push their children into.

We didn't want the choices to be so specific and limiting. Moreover, we envisage careers of the future to have evolved from today's.

Therefore we decided to use not-so-traditional, non-specific items that represented areas of future interest instead.

Modern First Birthday Grab for Baby Gwen
Credits: Annabel Liang photography

Items Selected for a Modern First Birthday Grab

We zoomed down into five broad categories of interest, namely Linguistics, Music, Art, Science and Sports. For these categories, we selected the following items.

Calligraphy ink and brush set - Linguistics
Guitar pedal - Music
Coloured pen set - Art
Machine Learning Book - Science
Shuttlecock - Sports


To play it fair, all the items had never been shown to Gwen before the birthday grab ceremony so she could reach out for whatever most intrigued her.

We asked a friend to help gather the items from her home and keep them hidden at the party right until the right moment.

Our friend also curated the items to be "baby-friendly" and relatively safe to handle (no choking hazard sized item.)

How the Birthday Grab went

We laid out the items in an arc and placed Baby Gwen half a meter away so she could crawl towards the items to make the selection.

She crawled very quickly in a linear straight line towards me (probably seeking comfort as she wasn't used to having so many pairs of eyes trained on her). In doing so, she picked up the coloured pen set.

Since she didn't seem to have given the selection a thought before picking up the coloured pen set, we decided to repeat the selection and got Gwen to crawl one more time. This time she was more at ease and gravitated towards the science book.

We thought, let's do it a third time to see if there's a predominant interest out of three choices!

For the third round, we simply gathered all the items and placed them within arm's reach around Gwen. She looked around and chose the science book again!

All our guests chuckled appreciatively. Perhaps Gwen might be inclined towards visual arts (like me!) and also follow in the footsteps of her scientific-minded dad!

On hindsight

We held the birthday grab towards the end of the party, as sort of a finale. On hindsight, it would have been better to hold it at the start or mid party when Gwen's energy level was higher.

All that social mingling had drained her a bit, so she was quite fussy and we had to give her something to chew to comfort her. She looked distracted too so our friend had to get onto her knees to encourage her to grab an item of her choice!

In spite of this, I'm glad the birthday grab went without a hitch and we have photos to remind her of her early choices in life 😂

Are you planning your child's first birthday grab? Share your experience with me via Instagram Direct Chat at @miraculove_sg or Facebook Group.

Cover image credit goes to Annabel Liang photography.

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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.

Hi! Thank you for taking time to read my blog. I am a stay-home Singaporean mama living in Seattle who is passionate about child-led and open-ended play for children in a conducive home environment.

Discovering Montessori and Reggio has been a life-changer for me. It made me an empathetic and mindful parent who follows my child’s needs and interests in the activities I plan at home. I hope the Montessori-friendly and Reggio inspired baby and toddler activities I share here inspire you too.

Happy reading!