Lit. one hundredth day after birth
The one hundredth day after a child’s birth, or a family party celebrating that day.
The term baegil refers literally to the one hundredth day following the birth of a child, but it also simply means many days. Korean society suffered a high infant mortality rate until the early 20th century, with many infants dying before they reached their one hundredth day. That is why past Koreans believed a special celebration was needed for a baby who had passed that critical period. For the celebration, called baegiljanchi, the family dressed the baby in new clothes and held a sumptuous banquet to celebrate with relatives and neighbors.
The celebration started with the ritual offering of a special breakfast of cooked rice and seaweed soup to Samsin, or the Goddess of Childbearing. After the rite, the food was eaten by the child’s mother. Special festive foods were prepared for the banquet including a variety of rice cakes such as baekseolgi, susupatteok, injeolmi, and songpyeon. Baekseolgi is a symbolic food because the first character of the word, baek, has the double meaning of “white” and “one hundred, ” which
together represented wishes for the baby to live for one hundred years. Meanwhile, susupatteok was believed to repel evil spirits thanks to its reddish color, and injeolmi was believed to help the baby grow with a sincere mind. Two kinds of songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cakes) were made, one with fillings and the other without, representing wishes for the baby to grow with a strong and generous heart. Baegiltteok, or rice cakes for the hundredth day, were handed out not only to relatives and neighbors but also to others who had not been formally invited, as it was believed this would help the baby lead a long life. Those who received rice cakes gave rice, thread, or money in return.
The day of the baegil celebration was also the day the baby’s hair was cut for the first time. The special garment worn by the baby for the celebrations had guessets and breast ties, which were long enough to go around the waist, representing the wishes of the family for the baby to enjoy a long life. Often the baby was dressed in a patchwork garment made with one hundred pieces of cloth because the number symbolized longevity. As such, the celebrations largely consisted of the events wishing for the health, happiness, and longevity of the child.
Today, the one hundredth day celebration tends to be less important than the first birthday celebration. In many cases, families simply take commemorative photos and share rice cakes with close relatives and neighbors.
While the samchiril rite was largely a prayer event for the protection of the newly born baby and his or her mother, the baegil event was a celebration solely for the child. It was also a social event where the family and neighbors gathered together to officially welcome the arrival of the new child. That the rice cakes shared out and the clothes worn on this day had symbolic meaning for the baby’s health and longevity reflects the harsh reality of the past when many new-born babies died before reaching their one hundredth day. Hence, the baegil event was a celebration for the baby who had managed to reach the one-hundred day milestone, ready to start a long and productive life.