After the 21st day of life, the next important Korean milestone is the 100th day of life, or baek-il. This is a relic of the days when infant mortality rates were high, and it was truly an occasion to celebrate when a baby made it to 100 days. On that 100th day, a family would traditionally pray and give food offerings to thank Samshin Halmoni (Birth Grandmother), the Shaman spirit of childbirth. The legend goes that a fifteen year old girl was seduced by a monk and became pregnant. Her scandalized and sanctimonious brothers locked her in a box and left her to die. Fortunately, her mother was able to free her, and she gave birth to triplet sons. Because of this heroic feat, she became Samshin Halmoni: the patron spirit of babies.
A party and feast are traditionally held for a baby’s baek-il. Samshin Halmoni is honored with prayers and food offerings. Red bean cakes are placed at the four compass points around the house to bring good fortune to the baby. It is also the custom to share rice cakes with 100 people to ensure long life for the baby.
The first time I learned about baek-il was when my first son was born. My mother called to tell me we should have a party to celebrate. And so we did!
We had a party for my second son too:
I was looking for photos of my daughter’s 100 day party and sadly realized that we must not have done this for her. This is the fate of third children. I know. I’m a third child myself. I did manage to take pictures of her on her 100th day:
This is a girl who knows how to celebrate, party or no party!
Today I’m leaving for New York City to celebrate my son’s 13th birthday. We will be meeting up with one of his best buddies, who is also turning 13, and his mother, one of my best buddies. I’ll be back some time next week with more birthday stories and pictures to share!