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2 Hours After This Baby Was Born, She Turned 2

Because of South Korea's ancient tradition on calculating ages
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 12, 2019 12:39 PM CDT
In this April 9, 2019, photo, Lee Dong Kil holds daughter Lee Yoon Seol as his wife, Ryu Da Gyeong, sits nearby at their house in Daejeon, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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(Newser) – Just two hours after Lee Dong Kil's daughter was born on New Year's Eve, the clock struck midnight, 2019 was ushered in, and the infant became 2 years old. She wasn't alone, though it happened for her quicker than most: Every baby born in South Korea last year became 2 on Jan. 1. According to one of the world's most unusual age-calculating systems, South Korean babies become 1 on the day of their birth and then get an additional year tacked on when the calendar hits Jan. 1, per the AP. A lawmaker is working now to overturn the centuries-old tradition amid complaints that it's an anachronistic custom that drags down an otherwise ultramodern country. The origins of this system aren't clear. Being 1 upon birth may be linked to the time babies spend in the womb or to an ancient Asian numerical system that didn't have the concept of zero.

Becoming a year older on Jan. 1? That's even harder to explain. It could be that ancient Koreans cared a lot about the year in which they were born in the Chinese 60-year cycle, but, without regular calendars, didn't care much about the specific day; so they mostly ignored the day of their birth and instead marked another year of age on the day of the Lunar New Year, according to a curator at the National Folk Museum of Korea. For parents whose babies are born in December, it can be especially odd. One hour after his daughter's birth at 10pm on Dec. 31, Lee posted the news on social media and friends showered him with congratulatory messages. "An hour later, when the New Year began, they phoned me again to say congratulations for my baby becoming 2 years old," said Lee, who is 32 internationally but 34 in South Korea. "What the heck!'"

(Read more South Korea stories.)

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