Daeboreum -- Time to howl at the moonThis weekend, the great moon in Seoul's night sky will take us back to an ancient tradition.
Koreans centuries ago believed the moon was the goddess of water and earth, and that its bright light carried mystic power to cure disease and ward off evil spirits. Ancient literature records that a dragon, the god of agriculture, would lay an egg in the village well and villagers would compete to "pick the dragon's egg." The first person to rise in the early morning and scoop the holy water ?that is, the water that reflected the full moon perfectly ?would receive the god's blessing.
The lunar calendar, befitting the peninsula's agricultural cycle, was culturally more significant than the solar one. Celebrating the rise of the lunar new year's first full moon, or Daeboreum, promised prosperity and productivity. In fact, the holiday has the richest folklore and history of all the festivals in Korea.
Traditional First Full-Moon Day activities were gregarious events encouraging harmony and cooperation in the community. That same spirit of sharing and tradition of celebration continues in the modern Korea of today.
Celebrate at the foot of Mount Namsan
Korea House is a traditional tile-roof house based on the blueprint of Gyeongbok Palace's Jagyeong Sanctum, a royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. With unpaved roads and old pine trees on the grounds, the house aptly depicts Korean traditional culture and customs.
On Saturday and Sunday, Korea House is holding a Korean food exposition so visitors can view the simple, delicate yet complex process of preparing and presenting a holiday feast.
Popular dishes that will be prepared in the lobby from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. include bongni (steamed rice wrapped in dried sea kelp or lettuce leaves), ogokbap (a mixture of steamed grains, glutinous rice, red beans, glutinous millet and beans), namul (vegetable) dishes, and bureom (assorted nuts). Eating these special dishes is believed to stimulate the appetite and prevent illnesses in summer.
The Daeboreum buffet, from 11:30 a.m to 2 p.m., offers guests a chance to sample the holiday menu. The buffet costs 9,900 won ($8.25) a person and comes with a lucky bag filled with bureom.
From 12:30 to 1:40 p.m. there will be a ceremony to placate the god of the earth, known as jisin. To wish for the well-being in the new year, a mask dance, jisin balbgi, and a shaman exorcism, binarigut, will be performed.
Namsan Hanok Village, just around the corner from Korean House, is known for preserving Korean tradition. The artificial stream runs next to a pavilion at the entrance of the village, reviving the old Seoul atmosphere.
On Saturday, visitors can write their wishes on a piece of paper, then fly them high in the sky attached to a kite ?a traditional way to make the wishes come true. Or they can stack a bundle of straws under the eaves to wish for a fruitful year.
Also on display will be dried vegetables from last year ?pumpkins, mushrooms, brackens, eggplants, groundsel and radish leaves. These "aged" vegetables used to be precious sources of nutrients in the Korean winter. They were dried, boiled and then sauteed with sesame oil and served as special foods on First Full-Moon Day.
Visitors will also have a chance to make ogokbap. And at 6 p.m. the daljip taeugi (burning the straw hut) event will brighten the night sky while the drums of the nongak beat and the mask dance bongsan talchum is performed.
Visitors to both Korea House and Namsan Hanok Village are encouraged to come with local friends since no tours in English will be available.
The palace is full of flames and good cheer
Recent visitors to the National Folk Museum of Korea in central Seoul may have noticed lengths of rope with slips of paper attached them. The ribbons line the walkways and stretch all over the grounds.
Upon closer inspection, people see that the slips have been written in several languages. Some have the words "World Peace." Others seem like doctoral theses. These pieces of paper are wishes, and those wishes will take center stage when they are set aflame in the folk ritual known as daljip taeugi at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Korean tradition has it that a small hut made of straw and wood, that's the "daljip" part, is burned on the day of the first full moon of the first lunar year. Before they're set on fire, the ropes bearing the slips of paper are wound around the house. It's believed that the faster the house burns, the quicker the village's problems will be solved.
While daljip taeugi is the museum's featured event, the day will be full of activities, starting at 9 a.m. Among them are jegi chagi (Korean hacky-sack) and top-spinning. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. there will be an area where people can make their own totem poles and kites.
At noon, the first real bang of the day comes as the winter silence is shattered by a performance of traditional Korean music to welcome the full moon. A folk band and dancers will leave the museum, walk to Gwanghwamun and back.
On the lawns will be classes for children and parents wishing to learn the basics of traditional Korean instruments. A performance of songpa daribalbgi is scheduled for 3 p.m., before the day's highlight, the fiery daljip taeugi.
The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts in southern Seoul opens its door at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The program includes two performances -- notdari balbgi and dari balbgi -- at the center's Main Hall, yeakdang and daljip taeugi in the plaza. The audience can participate not only in burning the daljip but also the group dance ganggangsuwollae under the moonlight.
Notdari balbgi is a kind of dance drama portraying a moment in Korean history. It's one of the most important performances and is denoted as Intangible Cultural Property No. 7 (because if it's got a number, you know it's important).
King Gongmin of the Goryeo Dynasty, his safety threatened by invading Chinese rebels, found refuge in the city of Andong. When the queen and other honored guests were unable to cross a river, the women from the neighboring villages made a human bridge that allowed the queen to walk over their backs to safety. This re-enactment is performed at the First Full-Moon Festival by the center's 28-member dance troupe.
The second part of the event is a series of performances of traditional Korean art, including a poetry recital, mask play and percussion quartet.
Subtitles and descriptions will be projected onto a screen in English.
Korea has its own kind of lion dancing
In the Training Center of the Foundation for the Preservation of Cultural Properties in Seolleung, southern Seoul, a Daeboreum festival will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
It begins with binarigut, a ceremony based on a traditional Korean shaman exorcism. The word binari derives from the Korean word bilda, which literally means "to wish." The word gut means to sweep away any traces of bad luck from the previous year and to bring in good luck for the new year. With a head of pig set on the table along with ceremonial offerings, the shaman sounds the bell and prays in the form of dance.
The highlight is the lion dance, in which performers dressed in lion's masks and colorful costumes dance to the rhythms of a drumming circle. The lion dance, which originated in China, is popular throughout Asia as a means to ward of evil spirits.
The festival will close with the cracking of nuts and the writing of New Year's resolutions. Participants generally crack the same number of nuts as their age, say, 33 for a 33-year-old person.
The New Year's resolutions will be collected and tied to a straw rope, which will be taken to Namsangol Hanok Village and burned.
Amusement parks get into the festival fun
Seoul area theme parks combine high-speed thrills with some good, old-fashioned fun. This year you can enjoy all the year-round attractions of two of Korea's biggest theme parks, while also learning about one of Korea's most beloved holidays:
Seoulland (www.sl2.co.kr), an outdoor theme park and a perennial favorite among Korean thrill-seekers, plans a host of cultural events and activities to be enjoyed alongside its popular "Sky-X," a bungee jump-like ride, and its "Black Hole 2000," the longest roller coaster ride in Korea.
The Daeboreum festivities begin at 4 p.m. Saturday and continue until 8 p.m. Throughout the evening you can enjoy games such as yutnori (a wooden block dice-like game) and kite flying. The park will host traditional flaming daljips and stage a Daeboreum cultural performance.
There will also be lots of free nuts to chase away bad luck for the year. At the end of the evening there will be a traditional ganggangsuwollae folk dancing. This is a Korean custom, not unlike Western folk dancing, in which family members and friends dance together in large circles. Under the warm hue of flickering straw flames, it should be quite a party.
Holiday activities planned at the Lotte World (www.lotteworld.com) theme park begin earlier in the day on Saturday and continue through the park's close at 11 on Sunday.
Games will be held from 2 to 7:30 p.m. and include jegi chagi, ttakji chigi (a flat-marble game) and jumping roping.
One particular game of note is mulbanggae, a traditional game in which participants drop a Korean water-borne beetle into a basin and win prizes depending on which direction it crawls. There is also a gigantic version of yutnori.
Holiday snacks will be distributed, and Korean folklore characters will appear throughout the weekend.
And for those, willing to try gwibalgi-sul, the "good hearing wine" will be distributed at the main gate to Adventure Park.
Perhaps the most anticipated event will be the Daeboreum Day Parade, featuring an appearance by the king, a wedding party and loads of traditional music.
Train tours get Daeboreum on right track
Train lovers can enjoy special railroad package tours this weekend. The Korean National Railroad is introducing three themes:
The "Moonlight Sonata" tour features a night cruise along the Yellow Sea. The train departs at 8:35 a.m. Saturday from Seoul Station for Hongseong Station near the Taean National Sea Park. The itinerary begins with a visit to Sudeoksa Temple, a seafood market and two 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) walks along the bay of Cheonsu, followed by a boat ride to watch the sunset and full moon on the ocean. There will also be special events such as the daljip taeugi, fireworks and sharing bureom. The train returns to Seoul at 10:45 p.m. The tour costs 30,100 won ($25) a person. For reservations, call 1544-7788.
A package for the adventurous is the overnight trip to Samcheonpo in South Gyeongsang province. The train departs at 8:10 a.m. Saturday from Seoul Station, heading first for Baekcheonsa Temple, famous for Korea's largest reclining Buddha. Samcheonpo's main attractions include cruising around tiny islands with unusual names ?Nose Island, Crane Island, Camellia Island, Elephant Rock, Folding-Screen Rock ?and moon gazing in the Hanryeo National Sea Park. After a break on the train, travelers make a stopover at Wanju in North Jeolla province and visit a spa surrounded by bamboo. The train returns to Seoul by 1:13 p.m. Sunday. The tour costs 76,000 won a person. For reservations, Pureun Travel Agency at (02) 882-7733.
Mountaineers can hop on a train from Seoul Station at 9:55 a.m. Saturday and travel four hours to get to Mount Hwawang in South Gyeongsang province. At the mountain top, visitors will participate in the annual burning of wild reeds covering 220 square meters (264 square yards), signaling the start of a new year. In the evening, a soak in a Bugok spa awaits. The train returns to Seoul Station at 5:20 a.m. Sunday. The tour costs 58,000 won a person. For reservations, call Hongik Travel Agency at (02) 717-1002.
by Ines Cho