In this article I have explained about the 100 days celebration in Korea, what it means for babies and new mothers, the outfits, gifts, and food related to it, and more.
The 100 day mark in Korean culture is a significant thread to the country’s past.
Like most traditions which weave through history and religion- be it to celebrate festivities or ward off evil – the celebration of the 100th day in Korea has similar roots.
Let me first tell you about the history of the practice, and then look at how it applies to modern day traditions.
Related: Parents Day In Korea
100 Days Celebration In Korea
Doljanchi – The First Birthday
The first birthday is a cause for celebration across countries and cultures. This applies to the Koreans as well, who rejoice ‘dol’, the first birth anniversary of a child.
Over the years, these celebrations have become more and more ostentatious, and the first birthday celebrations or ‘doljanchi’ is one of the highlights of a Korean.
It is a space to showcase talent, flaunt your wealth and display your affection for friends and family by inviting them to a lavish event.
Baek-il – The 100 Days of An Infant
Baek-il, on the other hand, is the 100-day celebration of an infant. ‘Baek-il’, which translates to ‘one hundred days’, is celebrated on the 100th day after the birth of the child.
While today, the observation of Baek-il is not considered to be of significance and is hence not very prevalent, the hundred-day fulfilment of a child was widely celebrated by all families – rich or poor – in the past.
History Behind The 100 Days Celebration
The infant mortality rate in mediaeval Korea was once (like everywhere else!) through the roof.
And as one can only imagine, new-born infants were most prone to multiple maladies due to their low levels of immunity in the first few weeks.
Childhood diseases were rampant, and a lot of children lost their lives to such diseases even before turning one.
While a lot of reasons were responsible for such tragic well-being, the most relevant would be poor hygiene, lack of medical accessibility, and the extreme weather conditions in Korea (harsh winters followed by humid summers).
The high death rate among newborns made crossing the 3 month mark seem like an achievement, something that demanded a celebration.
Moreover, to ensure the survival of their newborns, a lot of parents did not take their babies outdoors at all, in the first few weeks after their birth, that is.
So the 100 day celebration of survival also turned into a tradition to mark the day the baby went outdoors for the first time.
Since then, the number 100 has started to hold a place of significance in Korean culture and customs. Prayers and food are offered, and a party is thrown by the parents.
The 100 days has evolved into being reinterpreted as a sign of maturity in modern day Korea. For infants, the 100 day celebration is a sign that they would make it to their first birthday, and make it out of infancy.
People in relationships also celebrate their 100 days anniversary, as do new mothers, and so on. While the intent behind the 100 day celebration has lost meaning over the centuries, it continues to thrive.
Traditions Of The 100 Days Celebration in Korea
As is custom, the family would pray on the 100th day. This would be followed by offering thanks – usually in the form of food – to the Shaman spirit of childbirth.
The food will usually consist of rice and sea mustard soup, and also rice cakes and wine. Rice cakes were placed in accordance to the four directions – at north, south, east and west points within the house.
Another belief held by the Koreans is that if the rice cakes were shared with a hundred people, the child would lead a long, prosperous life; hence rice cakes would be prepared and shared liberally among family, friends and neighbours.
This was an offering of gratitude for keeping the mother and the child in good health during this trying period. It was a reason to celebrate, and share their happiness with their near and dear ones.
However, if the child turns out to be sick during his or her 100 day anniversary, the parents would spend the occasion without celebration, considering it ot be a sign of bad luck.
Gifts To Be Given During The 100 Days Celebration
Giving the baby gifts is allowed and appreciated by the hosts, especially if the guest is a close relative or friend.
Gold as an ornament or a coin is considered to be an extremely auspicious gift as it symbolises good fortune and well being. A small gold ring is ideal for such occasions.
A lot of guests prefer to give money, which is not considered to be impersonal, unlike in western countries. This money is accumulated and kept safely by the parents, who later use it to fund the child’s education. And no gift quite like that of knowledge, right?
Guests also give traditional robes or dresses with custom stitched initials of the child on it. These make for extremely thoughtful gifts. Apart from this, food as gifts is always welcome, as it can be shared, loved and enjoyed by all.
Modern Day Version of The 100 Day Celebrations
Apart from being a huge day for Korean infants, the 100 day anniversary is also a pretty big deal for postpartum mothers.
While the infant’s immune system is getting used to the outside, and trying to battle worldly diseases, the mother is recovering from a body altering – even mind altering – experience of pregnancy, labour, and the new postpartum life.
Mothers are advised to eat healthy, rest for hours, and keep warm after having given birth. This marks a period of recovery for new mothers.
So the 100 day anniversary is also symbolic of a mother making out of labour and birthing, in good health. So for the longest time, the mother would also be quarantined indoors along with her child during the first 100 days.
Today, the health condition and well being in Korea has exponentially improved. Stepping out is no longer a matter of danger for either the mother or the infant.
So today, while the infant’s 100 day anniversary is mostly a reason to celebrate and rejoice with family and friends, the mother’s 100 day anniversary is suggestive of her, enduring and flourishing in overall parenting and child rearing.
Of course, the auspiciousness of the 100 day mark has been made good use of, by other members of the society as well.
Couples and lovers, for example, celebrate their 100 day anniversary with great enthusiasm. Unlike other couples around the world, who celebrated their anniversary on a monthly and yearly basis, couples in Korea celebrate their anniversary every 100 days.
Given the importance of the 100 day anniversary, and its symbolism for survival and prosperity, romantic partners consider it as a promise for eternal love and care for each other.
The 100 days is counted from the day they start dating and so on. They also celebrate anniversaries in 100 day increments; meaning, on the 200th day, 300th day, 400th and so on.
Of course, it is a task by itself to keep count of the days, as opposed to a simple monthly or yearly anniversary.
It is usually up to the couple to keep track of the number of days they have been together, and forgetting a 100 day anniversary is not taken very well by the other partner.
A lot of apps are available which make this task easier, as one can only expect. The whole event is looked forward to with utmost fervour, as it is a day of celebration for the couple and maybe even their loved ones.
Most couples can be seen celebrating their 100 day anniversary by buying each other gifts, going out for a meal, taking and posting photographs, and so on.
However, one tradition that stands out among Korean couples is the custom of exchanging couple rings.
Unlike couples around the world, Korean partners wear rings regardless of their engagement to each other.
The ring is worn on the fourth finger of the right hand, and is often ‘renewed’ every time they cross a 100 day anniversary.
While this might seem excessive, long term couples look at the many 100 day anniversaries as a time to reevaluate their relationship, and maybe even refresh their promises and vows.
These rings are symbolic of the many stages of relationship to look back upon, and the many adventures of love to look forward to.
Koreans are also not big on public display of affection, so exchanging these rings is one of the many intimate little ways in which they express their love and gratitude for each other.
Another way couples celebrate their 100 day anniversary is by hiking all the way up to the Seoul Tower, which is a 236 metre tall observation tower located on Nam Mountain in Central Seoul, in South Korea.
It overlooks a breathtaking view of the country’s capital in all its glory. To the view of this gorgeous cityscape, couples declare their love to each other by leaving a love padlock with their names engraved on it.
This has especially become popular among contemporary and young couples who enjoy art and culture, and the romanticisation of it all.