Baek-il: Celebrating a Baby’s First 100 Days in Korean Culture
August 31, 2021 ~ By Shari Rose
Baek-il is a joyful Korean celebration that commemorates a baby’s 100th day of life. As one of several important age-related celebrations deeply ingrained in Korean culture, Baek-il is traditionally a baby’s first introduction to other family members, friends, and neighbors.
Why is Baek-il celebrated?
Baek-il translates to “one hundred days” in Korean, and is a celebration of a baby’s first 100 days of life. During this party, the baby’s parents welcome family, friends, and neighbors to their home, serve customary dishes, and receive gifts for the baby.
Traditional Korean culture places heavy emphasis on children and child-rearing, in part due to the nation’s history of deadly epidemics. Up until the early 20th century, the mortality rate for Koreans was very high. Waterborne diseases like dysentery and cholera were rampant in the peninsula’s naturally wet environment. Sadly, malaria was particularly prevalent in Korea for generations, and contributed to higher infant mortality rates.
With the high number of health-related dangers lurking outside the home, including while the country was under Japanese colonial rule, families fiercely protected the early days of their baby’s life. Fittingly, many customs seek to keep young children as healthy as possible. In traditional Korean culture for example, only close relatives on the mother’s side of the family typically see the baby before they are three months old. Thus, Baek-il is often an introduction of this new life into their extended family and larger community.
Baek-il, along with other age-related parties and ceremonies, marks an important milestone in a Korean baby’s life. It’s also believed to bring blessings upon the child for their continued health and development. Similarly to the Navajo’s First Laugh celebration, a baby reaching their Baek-il party serves as a reassuring sign to family and friends that this child will continue to thrive.
Modern Baek-il celebrations
Modern Baek-il celebrations in Korean-American families still carry many of the same traditions their ancestors performed generations ago. A main feature in these parties is the food, especially soup and rice dishes. Baekseolgi, a white rice cake, is a popular treat that’s often prepared for an assortment of Korean events and holidays. The baby’s parents usually prepare this cake themselves or purchase it from a Korean grocery store.
Tradition holds that the baby’s family should give out baekseolgi to their family, friends, and neighbors until they reach 100 people. This charitable act is believed to bring blessings upon the child, and set them up for a long and happy life.
Parents typically host Baek-il at their homes, and set up tables with food and a small decorated space to place their infant for photos. Some Korean-American families hire professional photographers to celebrate and remember the day. At the party, guests bring gifts fitting for a baby shower.