[FOUNTAIN]A day of feasting for the worldYesterday was Chilseok, July 7 according to the lunar calendar. In Asian mythology, on this day, Gyeonu, the Altair, meets, for the only time in the year, Jiknyeo, the Vega, living on the other side of the Milky Way.
Altair was a shepherd and Vega was a weaver. But they neglected their duties, falling in love with each other, suffering the wrath of the lord of the heavens. They were separated and placed in the far reaches of the galaxy, allowed to see each other only once a year.
They waited. But the day before they were to meet, they found there was a river between them and that there was no bridge to cross the river. They wept in agony. But that night numerous magpies and crows constructed a bridge with their wings. The bridge is called Ojakgyo, the bridge of crows and magpies. The two lovers finally met and spent one night together.
Each year on Chilseok, it is said one cannot find magpies and crows because they are at the river, building a bridge. Rains in the evening on this day are said to be the lovers’ tears of delight, and rains in the morning the following day are tears of grief.
Because of the myth, this day is a symbol of love and longing for singles in the Orient. It also provides a lesson that if one fails to fulfill his duty indulging in love, one can lose both a job and one’s lover.
In China, women once offered five colors of thread to Altair and Vega in prayer for good weaving. In China, Japan and Korea, people cook pumpkin jeon, a kind of pancake made of pumpkin, which is abundant at this time, and use it in entreating chilseongnim, the shaman god of human welfare.
In western constellations, Vega belongs to Lyre and Altair belongs to Aquila. There is no evidence that the naming of Vega was the result of knowledge about the relationship between the two stars. Vega means “descending eagle” in Arabic.
These days, youth try to make Chilseok a day for lovers just like Valentine Day in the West. Some say the day could be a day of feasting worldwide if we advertise effectively the tradition of eating cakes and cookies, the making of dolls resembling crows and magpies and the images of Ojakgyo.
If Koreans take the initiative to make a global feast day based on the Chilseok myth, which is common to people in the Far East, we could bring attention to Korea and strengthen Korea’s position as a country with strong cultural traditions.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.