For a Merry Old Time, Book It to Dano

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For a Merry Old Time, Book It to Dano

The village folk of Gangneung enjoy one of the most boisterous celebrations in all of Korea: the Dano Festival.

The celebration runs Saturday through Wednesday and dates back 1,000 years. Traditionally, after watching spring supplies dwindle, harvesting the spring crop and planting the summer crop and rice plants, farmers could finally put down their hoes and eat, drink and party. And party they did.

Throughout the peninsula, villagers gathered in their town centers for several days of merrymaking. Although the celebrations lasted several days, with months of preparations, it was dedicated around the fifth day of the fifth lunar moon, which falls on Monday this year. "Dano" literally means the fifth day of the fifth lunar moon.

People thanked mountain spirits and asked for blessings for a good harvest with ritual ceremonies, dancing and singing. Grown women shrugged off their grown-up gravitas to enter swinging competitions or see-sawing contests. Men wrestled. Everybody ate and drank great amounts. The festival was one of three significant holidays, the others being lunar New Year's and Chuseok. The Dano Festival was perhaps the merriest, as the other two are often marked with solemn ceremony.

Early in the 20th century the spirit of the festival started waning. When a national government emerged after the Korean War, officials drew up a list of national holidays that sometimes changed yearly. At some point, Dano was dropped from the list, ensuring its demise nationwide.

Pockets of villages fiercely protected the Dano tradition. Gangneung, in Kangwon province, was one. One of its organizers, Lee Jeong-hwa, proudly said, "Society changes and eras change, but we've kept the festival intact." The Gangneung Dano ritual was designated Intangible Cultural Asset No. 13 in 1967.

At Gangneung, events have grown from earthy ritualistic ceremonies into a full-fledged festival. The area is now famed as the best place to experience the Dano tradition. About a million people from all over Korea gather from to see shamanistic rituals, folk games and a market better described as a circus.

Preparations for the festival started months ago. On April 28, villagers began brewing vats of rice wine. In the beginning of May, there was a ceremony dedicated to sansin - mountain spirits - along Daegwallyeong, a winding road that crests at the peak of Mount Taebek before dropping to the city limits.

The ritual is dedicated to Kim Yu-sin, a Shilla dynasty general credited with unifying Korea's Three Kingdoms under Shilla. After a Confucian ceremony, a mudang , or shaman, goes into a trance, supposedly inhabited by the spirit of General Kim. The mudang wanders off into the nearby forest and grabs hold of a young tree. The tree is cut and decorated. Participants form a parade to carry the tree to another temple on the western edge of the city. It is laid in front of a site dedicated to a female mountain spirit. It is an act of good fortune as the two symbolically mate during the course of the festival.

On Saturday, the events will begin at 6 p.m., with yeongsinje, a ritual in which two national mountain spirits are summoned: guksa-seonang, a male, and guksa-yeoseonang, a female.

Starting Sunday, a jocheon ritual will take place daily from 10 a.m. Government officials gather to pray for a good harvest and the well-being of the region. For this Confucian-style ceremony, participants dress up in traditional costumes.

The religious centerpiece of the festival is the Dano gut, another shamanistic ritual. The gut will take place daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The religious segment of the festival ends on Wednesday with a soje starting at 8 p.m. The soje is a ritual in which paper flowers and incense tablets are burned, smoking out evil and sending off the last two spirits, guksa-seonang and guksa-yeo-seonang.

Aside from the rituals, there are traditional games such as ssireum, or wrestling, and traditional performances such as gwannogamyeon-geuk. The latter is a mask dance that takes place Saturday to Wednesday at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

For more information, call 033-648-3014 (Korean only). For help in English, call the Korea National Tourism Organization at 02-757-0086.


The city of Seoul is hosting its own Dano Festival. Festivities will take place in Boramae Park, Yeongdeungpo-gu, on Sunday. The event kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with a parade. From 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., there will be a Dano ritual. The rest of the day will be marked by contests, folk games and performances. For more information, call 750-8455/6 (Korean only).

The Namsan Folk Village is celebrating on Sunday from 11 a.m. Participants can wash their hair the old-fashioned way in iris water and cook traditional food. From 5:30 to 9 p.m. there will traditional performances. For more information, call 02-2266-6937 (Korean only).

Farmers from North and South Korea will celebrate Dano together this year. The festival falls on the anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Members of the Korea Farmer's League of the South and the Korean Agriculture Workers Union of the North will share games, music and prayers for a good harvest at Mount Kumgang in North Korea.

Round-trip tickets are available on the national railroad. Tickets cost 26,600 won ($20.50) from Saturday to Tuesday. The train departs Seoul at 9:12 p.m., stops to watch the sunrise on the east coast, and arrives in Gangneung at 6 a.m. The train departs Gangneung at 3 p.m. and arrives in Seoul at 9:55 p.m. Call 02-2285-6252 (Korean only).

by Joe Yong-hee

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