Jwibulnori, a game where children swing burning cans of charcoal around
While the lunar New Year on February 3 is one of the biggest holidays of the Korean lunar calendar, it’s far from the only festivity celebrating the new lunar year. Jeongwol Daeboreum welcomes the first full moon of the lunar year. Falling 15 days after the lunar New Year, this year, Daeboreum is on Feb. 17. This festival of the “great full moon” is one of Korea’s most unique and enjoyable festivals, often including giant bonfires and dancing.
As with many Korean holidays, special foods are essential to properly passing the holiday. On the morning of Daeboreum, people traditionally crack and eat hard-shelled nuts. This eating ritual, which has to happen before the person speaks for the first time that day, is thought to provide health benefits, including hardening the teeth and protecting people from boils and skin problems. The sound of the cracking shells is also supposed to drive away evil spirits.
Another important food for the day is “ogokbap,” rice cooked with five grains. Although the exact grains cooked with the rice can vary by locality, ogokbap often includes millet and beans of different colors. This is a delicious and nutritious way to start the year, and an important boost to people’s diet in what used to be a very lean season in farming communities.
Some people also celebrate the holiday by serving nutritious “yaksik”
or “medicinal food.” Made with glutinous rice, chestnuts, jujubes and
pine nuts, it is usually steamed with honey, sugar or other sweeteners
and seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and sometimes spices like
cinnamon for a slightly sweet, sticky treat. (right: ogokbap)
Along with the nuts and multigrain rice dishes, “ear-quickening” wine helps complete the symbolic and nutritional needs of the day. A glass of “gwibalgisul” will help the drinker hear all the good news the New Year offers.
The jolly times are mostly for humans, though. Superstition holds that feeding dogs on this day will cause them to become sick in the summertime, so the unlucky beasts sometimes go without food for the day.
As with the lunar New Year, many people play folk games on this day.
The most popular event for Daeboreum though is kite flying. Not only
is it fun, but people believe that by flying kites you can send your
troubles far away.
Many people, particularly those who live near rivers, practice a tradition of going outside and trying to cross as many bridges as possible in the moonlight. Others enjoy trying to jinx each other by “selling heat” to careless compatriots. When greeting friends that day, be careful because a normal response can result in their asking you to buy their heat, which will make you suffer twice as much when the summer swelter hits.
Many of the day’s festivities revolve around fire. Traditionally, people in farming villages would burn the dry grasses on the edges of the rice paddies, while children would run around the fields swinging burners filled with lit charcoal. By spreading charcoal and singing the fields, farming communities were able to prepare the land for spring planting. The fires helped kill insects and other pests living in the ground that could destroy future crops.
Even today, many communities build massive bonfires and swing cans of
burning coals to celebrate the day. In addition to the practical
benefits to farming communities, fires can also symbolically purify the
land and people. Some of the largest fire festivals are held on the
island of Jeju, where people also enjoy folk games and climbing volcanic
peaks, called “oreum.”
One of the most important traditions is called “dalmaji” or “greeting
the moon.” Because it’s the first full moon of the New Year, people go
outside to appreciate its beauty and make a wish. Different areas of
Korea have different traditions, but in their own way, they all seek to
welcome the New Year's luminous moonlight.
by Jennifer Flinn
Korea.net English Editor and Staff Writer