In Korea, on the 100th day after a child’s birth, a feast is prepared and the family has a small celebration for the baby’s health and the mother’s recovery from delivery. The number 100 has an inherent meaning of maturity and perfection, signifying a baby passes through a perfection period safely as a human being. People bring presents and congratulatory statements and wish for the baby’s health and blessing. Baek-il is one of two Korean traditions celebrating the passage of a baby from one age to another. In addition to celebrating a baby’s 100th day of life, another very important birthday is the first birthday, which Koreans call Dol. Both traditions stem from centuries ago when medicine and hygiene weren’t as advanced and the rate of infant mortality was much higher. Making it past the first 100 days was a sign that you’d live to see your first birthday, and making it past your first birthday was a sign that you’d make it out of infancy.
Baby H on the Day of his 100th Day Celebration (a tradition in Korean culture) Wearing his Traditional Korean Hanbok
At this time the samshin halmoni is honored with offerings of rice and soup in gratitude for having cared for the infant and the mother, and for having helped them live through a difficult period. The family, relatives and friends then celebrate with rice cakes, wine, and other delicacies such as red and black bean cakes sweetened with sugar or honey.
A Korean Family Celebrating the 100th Day Birthday of Their Daughter
To prevent potential harm to the child and to bring him or her good luck and happiness, red bean cakes are customarily placed at the four compass points within the house. If the steamed rice cakes are shared with 100 people, it is believed that the child will have a long life. Therefore, rice cakes are usually sent to as many people as possible to help celebrate the happiness of the occasion. Those who receive rice cakes return the vessels with skeins of thread, expressing the hope of longevity, and rice and money, symbolizing future wealth.
Fancy Korean Rice Cakes
Such customs are also part of the Dol, or first birthday, celebration. Because of the high infant mortality rates in the past, this celebration is considered to be even more important. Like the 100th day celebration, it begins with offerings of rice and soup to the samshin halmoni. However, the highlight of this celebration is when the child symbolically foretells his or her own future.
For this ritual, the child is dressed in new traditional Korean (Hanbok) clothes. A male child wears the traditional hood worn by unmarried youths, and the female wears make-up. The child is seated before a table of various foods and objects such as thread, books, notebooks, brushes, ink and money which have all been given to the family by friends and relatives. The child is urged to pick up an object from the table, as it is believed the one selected first will foretell the child’s future. If the child picks up a writing brush, pencil or book, for example, he is destined to be a scholar. If he picks up money or rice, he will be wealthy; cakes or other food, a government official; a sword or bow, a military commander. If the child picks up the thread, it is believed he will live a long life.
Child in traditional Hanbok foretelling his future choosing the pencil
This is followed by feasting, singing and playing with the toddler. Most often guests will present gifts of money, clothes, or gold rings to the parents for the child at this time. Upon departure, guests are given packages of rice cakes and other foods to take with them. This sharing of rice cakes is thought to bring the child long life and happiness.
Traditional Dol Setup
We celebrated our daughter Serissa Sun’s 100th Day Birthday 백일 (baek-il) on Sunday March 1st, 2009.
We celebrated our daughter Leeanna Jubilee’s 100th Day Birthday 백일 (baek-il) on Saturday January 29th, 2011.