If you are visiting South Korea during winter, do not miss the chance to experience these korean winter customs (한국사에서 세시풍속)!
During winterㅡwhich starts in the tenth lunar month and finishes in the twelfth monthㅡ, families gather together to carry out various significant activities. From simple activities like preparing kimchi to meaningful traditions like making offerings to their ancestors, there are plenty of interesting customs that you can check out. We are about to introduce you some of them.
Ipdong is the ninth of the twenty-four seasonal divisions of the solar cycle. It generally occurs between November 7 and 8 in the Gregorian calendar. However, due to the global warming, it stars later nowadays.
Around these dates, the peasants harvest white radishes and cabbages to stock up on kimchi for the winter. Winter kimchi is said to be the most delicious among all, if it is prepared 5 days before the start or end of the Ipdong. Which is usually between the tenth and thirtieth of the tenth lunar month.
During Ipdong, people offer rice cakes made with freshly harvested grain ㅡtogether with other foodsㅡ to the altars installed in the main hall, stables or ox stables.
Chigyemi is a custom in which people gather during Ipdong to organize a banquet for elders. They do this in order to honor their age and experience.
If the community’s economy is not good, they instead prepare and give Dorangtang (도랑탕) to them.
In some regions, they carry out Ipdong bogi (입동보기), which is fortunetelling.
This consists in finding out what would be the results of agriculture the next winter. They also predict the weather.
For example, a cold day of Ipdong, meant a harsh winter ahead.
More about this korean seasonal custom:
Soseol is the twentieth of the twenty-four seasonal divisions of the solar cycle. It generally occurs between November 22 and 23 in the Gregorian calendar. In the lunar calendar, Soseol usually occurs during the 10th month.
As its name indicates, the first snow takes place during this season, with the temperature falling below 5°C.
On the other hand, for some people Soseol is the perfect day to start with the winter activities. Such as stocking up on kimchi and preparing the fields for the next frosts. It is one of the most awaited Korean Winter Customs (한국사에서 세시풍속).
During Goryeo Dynasty (고려시대), there was a war caused by the mongols, in which the king decided to evacuate to the Island of Ganghwa (강화도). When they were about to embark, dangerous storms were about to come. Due to this, the ferryman Sondol (손돌), expressed that the king should have rested in a safe place instead. However, Sondol was so loyal. That is why he looked for a way to accomplish his work.
He decided to put a pot in the sea, with the idea that this might lead them through the safest path. The fact that they were in a state of evacuation, caused the king to perceive his idea as a trap. He suspected him and killed him, accusing him of treason without giving him a chance to defend himself.
But surprisingly, they reached safely to their destiny after following the pot. Because of that, the king immediately felt guilt. Consequently, he performed a ritual for the ferryman’s soul to rest in peace and later built a tomb.
Every year and during that day, sudden gusts of wind manifest in the low temperatures. This is the reason why people assure that these strong winds are just seeking justice for the unjust death of Sondol. Therefore, on that day in Ganghwa, it is forbidden to navigate the ocean.
The path of ocean they traveled received the name of 손돌목; while the winds that blow during his death anniversary of death 손돌 바람. Even the cold weather has his name: 손돌 추위.
손돌제 (ancestal rite)
Locals perform a ritual (손돌제) every year, on the twentieth of the tenth lunar month, to comfort Sondol’s soul. These are the activities they carry out:
Finally, they consume the food of the offering.
Daeseol is the twenty-first of the twenty-four seasonal divisions of the solar cycle. At this time, there should be a heavy snowfall, but because Heibei (China) developed the traditional seasonal calendar, it may not coincide with Korea’s heavy snow time.
It generally occurs between December 7 and 8 in the Gregorian calendar. In this eleventh lunar month, which contains the seasonal divisions of Dongji and Daeseol, full winter begins.
For the peasants, it was a time of rest. Due to their hard work, their warehouses were already full of previously harvested grains. Since they had no more worries, they could calmly start the New Year’s preparations. There was a belief that if it snowed heavily on the day of Daeseol, a warm winter would await them, but it rarely happens.
Dongji is the twenty-second of the twenty-four seasonal divisions of the solar cycle, the season of the year when the night is longest and the day is shortest. In the Gregorian calendar, it falls between December 22 and 23.
When the Gregorian date of the winter solstice coincides with the first day of the eleventh lunar month, it is Aedongji (애동지); if it occurs in the middle, Jungdongji (중동 지), and if it falls on the last day, Nodongji (노동 지).
The people used to refer to Dongji as Ase (아세; Minor New Year) and Jageun Seol (작은 설; Little New Year), because they thought of it as the day of the sun’s resurrection. In ancient times, people would consider themselves one year older after Dongji, and not New Year Day, as it is today. Back then, the old sayings gave strength to this belief, ”Passing Dongji, it is another year” or ”Without eating red bean porridge in Dongji, one cannot fulfill another year”.
Because of the cold weather and the long night of the winter solstice, it is associated with the mating of tigers. Therefore, this cycle has another nickname: Horangi Jangga Ganeun Nal (호랑이 장가 가는 날; The day of the tiger’s wedding).
In the royal court, Dongji was one of the two most important seasonal festivals. That is why a banquet called Hoeryeyeon (Korean: 회례 연, Hanja: 會 禮 宴) was held. In this banquet the king, the crown prince and the whole court would attend.
The king sent a delegation to China with tribute gifts for the imperial court. Also, local officials sent congratulatory letters to the king.
Historically, when Korea was a country where peasant life predominated, calendars specifying the lunar and solar cycles, as well as the seasonal festivals, were indispensable to carry out agricultural activities in due time.
Usually when Dongji was to come, people would give each other a calendar as a New Year’s gift, a custom that continues to this day. Another common gift were padded socks. Dongji heonmal (동지 헌말) is the name of these activities. In the royal palace, it was customary to offer herring on the altars of the sanctuary, and also in the house of officials.
During this season, there was also the custom of wearing paper amulets in order to keep evil spirits away. These amulets, 동지 부적 (冬至 符 籍), had the Chinese ideogram meaning “snake” and were glued backwards.
On this day, when the temperature dropped below 0 °, as it often happens, the surface of the ponds covers with layers of ice, giving the appearance of a dry field just after plowing. Yonggari (Korean: 용갈이, Hanja: 龍 耕, Translation: Dragon plow) is the name of this phenomenon. If the weather was warm during Dongji, it was a bad omen that there would be an outbreak of disease. A cold winter with abundant snow, meant great harvests. On the other hand, there would be less insects in the fields and more tigers in the forests.
The most popular dish in Dongji is red bean porridge, prepared by boiling red beans. When the mixture acquires a thick consistency, you must add glutinous rice balls. These rice balls are known as Saealsim (Korean: 새알심, Translation: Bird Egg Balls), because they are the size of a bird’s egg.
The first plate of porridge is usually offered at the family shrine, during the Dongji gosa (동지 고사) ceremony. For this rite, they need to put plates of red bean porridge in all rooms and other important parts of the house, especially in the fermented condiment jars and the barn, in order to exorcise evil spirits.
The porridge is presented to the altar as an offering to the Gods. People believed that the red color of beans, a positive color in fengshui, has the power to repel negative spirits. After offering food to the spirits of the home, the family can now enjoy the dishes for themselves.
When the winter solstice was Aedongji (Falling a month before the eleventh lunar month), people did not prepare red bean porridge, thinking it was harmful to young children. Families who had lost a family member due to a sudden illness also avoided cooking porridge during Dongji.
There are some variations depending on the region. In Gyeonggi province, for example, families first perform the ceremony of offering porridge at the shrine. Consequently, they put the dishes in the rooms and barns before enjoying the food themselves.
In Gyeongsang Province, they dip a pine branch into the porridge and sprinkle on the doorway, walls, and courtyard of the house to keep spirits away.
In Gangwon Province, each family’s wife must cook glutinous rice and Sorghum balls (옹심이). Everyone need to eat the number of balls corresponding to their age. If the porridge spoiled by mild weather, according to the belief, there would be a bountiful harvest the following year.
Dongji is definitely one of the most interesting Korean Winter Customs (한국사에서 세시풍속).
South Korea indeed has many interesting customs. These korean winter customs (한국사에서 세시풍속) were not the exception.
As a foreigner, getting to learn about new traditions every day, it is actually exciting. Especially if there is a plan to stay for a long period of time in this country. Because sooner or later, you will have to experience this at first hand. For this reason, we decided to teach you about these customs.
If you love korean culture, you should try to experience one of these customs in real life!
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