Customs for the first full moon of the year l KBS WORLD

February 1 was Seol, or Lunar New Year’s Day, one of the biggest traditional holidays in Korea, and next Tuesday is the first full moon of the year. These first fifteen days of a Lunar New Year are when we Koreans practice various seasonal customs wishing a good harvest or good health for our loved ones. Among the children’s games enjoyed at this time of the year was the flight of kites. In Samguksagi삼국사기, the historical account of the Three Kingdoms, there is a story of General Kim Yu-sin김유신 who raised the morale of his troops by flying burning kites. There is also other historical documentation of how kites were flown for military purposes. But kiting was one of the children’s favorite winter pastimes. Children fought with their kites by stiffening the kite strings with glue and cutting the other kite strings. The kites were flown until the first full moon of the year, then released on that day, an act intended to send the bad luck of the year along with the kite. Jwibulnori쥐불놀이 is another favorite winter tradition. In the past, Koreans collected straw from empty paddy fields and lit the straw on fire. This custom was performed to kill pest eggs or rats. It was believed that the stronger the fire burned, the better the harvest of the year. More recently, children made holes in the bottom of empty cans and put embers or briquettes of burning charcoal in them and twirled them around. Imagine how awesome and fun these light up cans would have been in the dark. Today’s first piece is “Jwibulnori” performed by the Byulmaru Traditional Ensemble.

Jwibulnori / Performed by Byulmaru

Another iconic custom of Lunar January is cracking nuts with your teeth. In the old days, people believed that biting into chestnuts, walnuts, gingko or pine nuts made teeth stronger and skin healthier. It was, of course, a superstition, but nuts were a great snack when food wasn’t plentiful and provided much-needed fats and other nutrients to help keep skin healthy without blemishes or boils. Another tradition is to eat foods made from one of the five grains: barley, black beans, sorghum, kidney beans, or millet. Eating these different grains was a health-promoting tradition, but it also represented people’s wish to harvest many of these grains. It was also considered luckier for three families with different surnames to share these grains, naturally motivating people to share food. The children gathered and went to different houses to ask for food, which they ate outside. It was believed that children who ate like this would grow big and strong. It certainly takes a whole village to raise a child. One of the most beloved traditions of Lunar January was the Mask Dance. Centuries ago, when there was no television or movies, watching people wearing weird and funny masks dancing the night away would have been the greatest entertainment for ordinary people. Let’s listen to “Mask Dance” performed by folk group Dulsori.

Mask Dance / Performed by Dulsori

Each region of Korea has its distinct mask dance. So many masked dances have been designated as national intangible cultural properties that it is difficult to name them all. But among the best known are the Bongsan mask dance 봉산 and the Bukcheong lion dance 북청 from the North Korean region, the Tongyeong Ogwangdae 통영오광대 dance from the Busan and Gyeongnam region and the Gangneung Gwanno mask dance 강능 관노 of Gangwon-do province. The Cultural Heritage Administration is said to have submitted documents for these mask dances to be included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The mask dance probably started as a shamanic practice in ancient times to wish for a successful hunt. In the Three Kingdoms era, it became an art, and the United Silla Kingdom’s Cheoyongmu처용무 is inherited as a classical dance piece to this day. In Joseon times, masked dances were used by ordinary people to mock the ruling class. Knowing how ordinary people relieved their stress and grievances through dancing, the nobles allowed them to have fun on these occasions instead of stopping them.

Wrapping up this week’s episode with Bukcheong Lion Dance’s “Lion Dance” featuring drummer Yeo Jae-seong and tungso players Dong Seon-bon and Koh Jang-wook.

Lion Dance/ Drum by Yeo Jae-seong, tungso by Dong Seon-bon and Koh Jang-wook

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