The tradition of Baek-il takes place on the 100th day after a child’s birth. In Korea’s early days childhood disease was common and infant mortality rate was very high. To protect children parents refrained from taking babies outdoors for a full 100 days. At 100 days a celebration is held and the infant meets the world; neighbors, friends and relatives for the first time. The ritual includes offerings to Samshin giving thanks for taking care of infant and mother through a most critical growth period and prayer for jae-ak (wealth), longevity and cho-bok (“luck”). Then a feast of with rice cakes, wine, and other delicacies such as red and black bean cakes sweetened with sugar or honey. Red bean rice cakes are placed at the four compass points of the home to bring extra protection, good fortune and happiness.
It’s customary for the parents to distribute rice cakes baekseolgi to at least 100 people – it’s believed this act of sharing promotes long life, recipients of the rice cakes pray for continued good health and return the empty containers with token gifts that include lengths of thread (longevity) rice and money (symbolizing future wealth).
It’s unusual for a Korean person to not have a Baek-il celebration portrait as a baby dressed in a Han-bok (Korean traditional costume) surrounded by lots of colourful dishes. At 7 years-old, I remember searching for my Baek-il picture and was deeply hurt to discover I didn’t have one. My elder brother and sister had one so why didn’t I? This memory is still so vivid as my biggest disappointment from that time, guess I wanted to know that I was like everyone else – my little heart was broken. My mind painted wild stories in search for answers, believing I must be an orphan picked from under a bridge by my parents – I never was able to ask that question.
I was a lonely child – at 7, I waited on the roof top for my mom who returned late every night and quarreled with Dad. I can’t remember what my sister and brother were doing, I just remember starving for love and attention on those dark days into nights. I’ve since learned when mom was pregnant with me that they decided abort because their marriage was in tatters and they wanted to be separate, Dad insisted to go ahead in the event I might be a boy. The arrival of a baby girl was disappointing and I was sent to grandparents for 5 years, when I returned my parents decided to go their separate ways.
Now it’s my turn to be a mom to a beautiful baby girl, her pure light is guiding me past those painful years and the floods of tears coming through my face are helping the wounded little girl inside me find her way home. Her voice now saying I am special and I do have worth.
When our little girl turned 100days old we decided to continue the tradition of Baek-il in our own way, no Korean rice cake or colorful sweets but helpings of love, hope and a little help from mother nature to watch on her.
Baby girl – Scout Hana, we welcome you in this world and our love is so so much. – Ko
We all have memories from our past that form the people we become. Life is teaching us how to evolve and make better decisions and less hurtful mistakes. So let the practice of purging our pains and sharing our lessons be our offerings to Samshin – may they bring hope to a brighter richer more loving future in the world so children can literally be better and safer in the knowledge that love is above all.
As a non-Korean I cherish the opportunity to extend this tradition albeit re-interpreted and represented. While history can be the bearer of hurt we need to remember so we never forget.
To my wife and mother of light – I say never stop loving. To my little girl and every little girl (and boy), we love you always.
THE BEGINNING… – Smith