The Lunar New Year holiday, also known elsewhere as Chinese New year, is second in importance only to Chuseok (the Harvest Moon Festival). Every year, family members make a grand pilgrimage to their hometowns. During the 3-day period, Seoul is almost deserted a most people leave the city to return to their ancestral roots. Although many of the younger generation take advantage of the time off to go skiing or travel abroad, Korea’s roads, railways, and skies are full of homeward bound travelers. People line up for hours when the bus and train tickets go on sale, about 3 months prior to the holidays. For those masochistic enough to try driving, taking over 24 hours to drive from Seoul to Busan is not unheard of! (Normally, it takes 5-6 hours. However, the family bond runs deep in Korea culture, and it seems that people gladly make the journey.
Category Archives: Korean Festivals and Holidays
Dongji falls on December 22nd in the solar calendar. It is the day with the shortest daytime hours and longest night hours. In traditional societies people used to call Dongji “little new years” and was considered a festive day that follows new years. Old proverbs such as “You must pass Dongji to grow one year older” or “You must eat adzuki bean porridge to grow one year older” are derived from this custom.
People used to make bird egg shaped balls with glutinous rice to add to their adzuki bean porridge. These balls were dipped with honey to add an extra taste and were used as seasonal foods used for offerings to ancestors. People also used to smear the porridge on their doors because they believed that adzuki bean porridge scarred away ghosts.
Chuseok, also known as Hangawee, falls on the15th day of the 8th lunar month and is one of the four mainfestive holidays of Korea.In ancient society, people used to worship and hold festivals under the full moon. It is said that Chuseok is derived from the full moon, which was on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
Bulcho and Sungmyo
Bulcho is the tradition of cutting the weeds around one’s ancestral graves during Chuseok. Paying a visit to one’s ancestral graves is considered as a duty towards one’s ancestors.
Chare (Memorial rites)
During the morning of Chuseok, families gather around the head family house where the household shrines are placed to pay respects to their ancestors. Their memorial rites are offered up to their great-great grandfather. The only thing different from the memorial rites held during new years and that held in Chuseok, is that during Chuseok people eat rice instead of rice cake soup.
Ganggangsulle is a traditional circle dance, where women gather at a specified place and go around in circles chanting “Gang-gang-sul-le.” If a woman with a strong voice stands in the middle chanting gang-gang-sul-le, the rest of the people in the circle follow.
This game is played by two teams, each with a four wheeled sedan chair, that try to either snatch or destroy each others’ sedan chairs. Since long ago, winners of this game were believed to easily pass the civil service examination and are said to have celebrated their victory by going around the town singing.
Chilseok is on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Traditionally, this is the day when a special ceremony is held for the stars that symbolize the annual encounter of the Gyeonu and Jiknyeo planets placed on each end of the galaxy. According to myths, Gyeonu and Jiknyeo’s love for each other brought the anger of the King of Heaven and therefore met once a year the night before Chilseok across the galaxy. Crows and magpies are said to have gathered to form a bridge for the two lovers’ reunion, and this bridge was called the Ojakgyo.
Chilseok is a period where the heat starts to pass away and the monsoon season begins. The rain that falls during this period is called Chilseok water. As pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons start to flourish during this period, people used to offer a pumpkin fry to the Great Dipper, although this custom is not practiced these days.
During Chilseok, it is tradition to eat wheat-flour noodles and grilled wheat cake. Chilseok is known as the last period to have a chance of enjoying wheat based foods, since the cold winds expected after Chilseok ruin thegood scent of wheat. Therefore these dishes are a must for the dinner table.
Sambok is known as the hottest period of the year and is comprised of the first, middle, and last bok days to be called the Sam-(three) bok heat period. To avoid suffering from heat during the last of the dog days, many people eat dog soup, also known as Boshintang.
Because eating dog dishes is considered bad luck according to different regions, many enjoy ginseng chicken broth instead. The ginseng chicken broth, also known as Samgaetang, is made by mixing chicken, ginseng, jujube, and glutinous rice, and is said to help regain energy. In addition, people eat rice and adzuki bean porridge during this period to avoid suffering from heat and disease.
Yudu is on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month. As part of the hottest period of the summer (Sambok), people enjoy ginseng chicken broth and other healthy soups. This custom is called Yudu.
Offering the first harvest of the season to the gods is the main tradition of Yudu. As the new harvest starts to grow during the Yudu season, households use this day called Yuduchunsin to gather Yudumeyon, Sanghwabyeong, Yeonbyeong, Sudan, Geondan, various wheat, and fruits to offer a sacrifice to spirits. In addition, people visit a clean stream to wash their hair and body on this day. This custom is believed to chase away bad spirits and help avoid suffering from heat during the summer.
During this day, people eat Yudumeyon, Sudan, Sanghwabyung, and many other dishes. Everyone enjoys Yudumeyon this day, for its superstition of prolonging life and chasing away the midsummer heat. Yudumeyon, which is usually made of flour, can also be made with malted rice and be called Yudu Soup. It is said that if it is made into three marble shaped balls, dyed with various colors, and hung on household doors with strings, disasters will be prevented.
Sudan and Gundan are made by cooking rice powder, cutting them into long thin slices, rolling them into little marble shaped balls and then soaking them in honey. When they are eaten with ice water it is called Sudan; it they are not, it is called Gundan. Sanghwabyung is a dish made by kneading water with soybean flour, adding sesame, soaking it in honey and cooking them all together.
Hansik is 105 days after Dongji and is one of the four major festive holidays including Seollal, Dano, and Chuseok. The term Hansik is derived from an old custom of not lighting fire, thus eating cold food. It is said that the origin of this holiday goes back to ancient China where the day was made to console Gaechachu, a loyal subject of Jin. Being chased by a treacherous subject, Gaechachu was in hiding at Mount Myun. Knowing Gaechachu’s loyalty, Mungong went to find Gaechachu only to return with nothing. Mungong’s last attempt to find Gaechachu was by setting fire to the mountain. Yet Gaechachu did not come out and was burned alive. Ever since then people had a custom of eating cold rice to commemorate his death.
This day, the country holds sacrificial rites at Jongmyo (Royal Shrine) and Neungwon. Citizens hold their own memorial services and visit their families’ ancestral graves. If the grave is worn they lay fresh turf in a custom called Gaesacho. People also plant trees around the grave. Farmers also spread seeds from the farmhouse.