The Koreans has divided a year into 24 turning points called Jeolgi, each of them has about 15 days. And many interesting seasonal customs and events which are closely related to Jeolgi, can be traced in the following texts. The Gregorian calendar was officially adopted in 1895, but traditional holidays, festivals and age reckoning are still based on the old calendar. With an influx of modern culture, some traditional customs are dying out, so far, some are still observed both in urban and rural communities. The given dates, unless otherwise specified, are on solar calendar, which slightly vary year to year.
1st day of the first moon.
Koreans celebrate Seolnal, which is second in importance only to Chuseok, the Harvest Moon Festival. Traditionally people dress in new clothes specifically prepared for Seolnal as a symbol of beginning life afresh. The Lunar New Year's Day activity begins with ancestral rites called Charye. Specific foods are prepared and arranged on tables in a prescribed manner in front of the family tablets in the main room of the house. Later in the morning, ceremonial foods are packed up and taken to the family's ancestral gravesite for a smaller rite called Seongmyo. The foods are placed in front of the tomb and the family members again make wine offerings and bow toward the graves. The family bond runs deep in Korea culture, and people gladly make the journey on the jammed highways. Internets are busy for train or air seat bookings and people line up for hours when the bus and train tickets go on sale, about 3 months prior to the holidays. During the 3-day period, Seoul is almost deserted a most people leave the city to return to their ancestral roots. The children in each family member give a deep bow called Sebae to the elders and wish them much happiness and good fortune in the coming New Year. In return, they get a token of small gift, usually money and receive good wishes for the year. It is a time-honored tradition for Koreans to hang a lucky ladle or a bamboo-woven strainer called Bokjori, which traditionally have been used for washing and handling rice and grains. The good-luck ladles were customarily sold late at night on New Year's Eve by door-to-door peddlers, hawking in the darkness. Bokjori will bring the family good luck if bought at this time and hung on the wall of a room, hall or a kitchen. Tteokguk, a rice cake soup made with thin slices of rice cake rolls, leeks, eggs, and strips of meat is a special food for Seolnal and must be eaten because it is believed that if you eat a bowl of it you can grow a year older - New Year is all about getting a year older. The slice of rice cakes that has an oval shape symbolizes coins/wealth. Games like kite-flying, playing a backgammon-like game called Yut, a jumping teeter-totter, shuttlecocks and top spinning are favorite pastime of the day. Fortune telling is still popular in Korea especially at the beginning of the New Year. During the two-week period between the Lunar New Year and Daeboreum, ascertaining one's fortune for the year ahead was considered especially important.
1. 입춘 (立春) - Ipchun (start of spring) February 4
Ipchun marks the first day of spring. For about half a month following Ipchun, mild easterly winds drive away the winter frost, bugs awaken from hibernation and fish start swimming beneath frozen lakes. On Ipchun day, the Five Blessings; Longevity, Wealth, Heath, Virtuousness, and Peaceful Death in old age were written and placed on the main gate of the house. Among the most common writings spotted today is Ipchundaegil Geonyangdagyeong meaning spring brings great fortune and happiness. On Jeju Island, the Gut or exorcism ritual to pray for a bountiful harvest for the upcoming farming season, performed according to its unique local traditions.
First full moon
Daeboreum is a day when people celebrate the first full moon. Watching the moon is a popular activity where people wait in the dark at the top of a mountain or a hill to see the moon come up on the sky. Children are given chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and gingko nuts early on Daeboreum morning to crack one with their teeth as part of a custom known as Bureom. The loud cracking sound of the nut was said to drive away evil spirits for the coming year and also assure that the children would have healthy teeth and be free from boils. People drink ear-clearing wine for improved hearing, sell their summer heat to maintain health throughout the summer, and ate dried vegetables and Ogokbap (five-grain rice) for their good health. Rice pole called Hwagan that was woven from rice straw to a height of several meters was often erected in the front yard with the aid of support ropes. The poles served as a symbol for assuring a bountiful harvest in the year ahead. In rural communities, village rites are performed in the wee hours of the morning of Daeboreum, which featured an offering of food and drinks to the guardian spirit of the village to fend off disease and misfortune for the year and produce a plentiful harvest. During this time of night, people play Jwibulnori, a traditional game of swirling around a hot briquette in a can while the rice straw in the field is set alight. The purpose of playing this game is to shoo away rats and other pests that can destroy the crops that will grow for the food for upcoming year. It is a way of asking a great year for farming and having plentiful food for the year. On Jeju island particularly, Deulbul Chukje or Fire Festival is one of the leading events. The villagers annually set in fire as a way to exterminate harmful insects. The event is held at Sebyeol Oreum during the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. The festival reaches a climax when an entire hillside is set ablaze. Other activities observed on Daebroreum includes Cow Fighting, Tug of War, Greeting the Moon, Selling Your Heat, Loop Fighting, Cart Fighting, Earth-Spirit Stomping, Torch Fighting, Bridge Crossing, Bridge-Crossing Game, Burning Moon Shelters, or Rat Fire Game.
2. 우수 (雨水) - Usu (rain water) February 19
Following Ipchun is the seasonal term of Usu, meaning Rainwater. Usu begins on or around February 19. During Usu and Gyeongchip (The solar term following Usu), the winter cold is driven out. Otters busy themselves catching fish, wild geese fly north and trees and other vegetation sprout new shoots and buds.
The first day of the second lunar month
It is often was referred to as Yeongdeungnal, in reference to Grandma Yeongdeung, a goddess who was believed to descend to the human world from her heavenly dwelling. Grandma Yeongdeung was an important divinity for fishing and agriculture as she controlled the wind. She remains until 20th day. People in the southern regions present offering in the kitchen or garden area, where foods were prepared and stored to welcome Grandam Yeongdeung and pray for the peace and good fortune of the home and the crop harvest. In preparation for the deity's arrival, households scattered yellow soil or loess soil outside the gate to mark the area as sacred. The gate was decorated with colorful strips of cloth in order to ward off 'impure' persons. They also hung a straw garland decorated with young bamboo leaves at the gate, in order to warn beggars or diseased persons to not approach or enter the house. Rural communities in traditional Korea held a worship service to celebrate the descent of Grandma Yeongdeung. The festival reached its peak on the day when Grandma Yeongdeung was believed to depart for her heavenly home.
3. 경칩 (驚蟄) - Gyeongchip (awakening of insects) March 5
On or around March 5 is considered to usher in the farming season. Gyeongchip gets its name from the frog that awaken from their hibernation begin to wriggle about. Flower buds and willow branches are still huddled up in the last cold snap, but the day suggests that the warmer season is drawing near. Mud work was also done on this day if there was no real need to do so, as this repair work was believed to prevent any mishaps during the year. Spring plowing begins, and chicken eggs were left to hatch.
4. 춘분 (春分) - Chunbun (vernal equinox) March 20
Chunbun or vernal equinox begins on or around March 21 with daylight and darkness being of equal length. Chunbun paper talisman was prepared on the day before Chunbun and kept throughout the year. During the Chunbun period, swallows return from the south, thunder can be heard and bolts of lightning flash for the first time of the year.
The 3rd day of the 3rd Moon
Three being a positive number in numerology, this double date was considered highly auspicious. In addition, it can be referred to as Women's Day and swallows are seen. People headed out on a blossom tour. The picnic included food such as flower petal pancakes and other seasonal delights. There was also a tradition of holding banquets around this time to treat senior members of the community to special meals. For the noblemen across the country Samjinnal was a day of archery contests.
5. 청명 (淸明) - Cheongmyeong (clear and bright) April 4
Traditionally, it is time to prepare rice seedbeds and plow the paddies. Vegetables such as gourds, squash, radishes, mallow, lettuce, red papers, eggplants, and green onions were planted. Trees were grafted for higher yields of fruit. Paulownia tress begin to blossom, and larks can be seen.
The same day as Cheongmyeong, or the following day.
Hansik dates back to the ancient Chinese kingdom. On a villainous retainer intrigued against Gaejachu, he hid in the slopes of Mt. Myeonsan. He remained in the fire that would force him out and burned to death. Since then, people began eating cold food in memory of the loyalty of Gaejachu on this day. Koreans traditionally mark the day performing an ancestral rite, and clean up the gravesite. But, today this is usually no longer a full family affair.
6. 곡우 (穀雨) - Gogu (grain rain) April 20
Gogu signals that the farming season is gearing up into full swing. Rural households prepare rice seed beds and proceed with other activities inaugurating the farming season. The straw sacks where the seeds were stored over the winter were covered with pine branches. People had to cleanse themselves of evil influences before they entered their homes if they attended a funeral, witnessed an inauspicious event or fell victim to bad luck. This was done by hopping over a bonfire set for this purpose outside the house gate. Dry spells and drought at this time of year were especially feared as they could cause serious damage to agriculture.
The 5th day of fifth moon
Koreans offered ancestral rites, and people post paper talisman on the wall of room or kitchen. The women traditionally washed their hair with water infused with sweet flag called Changpo, which is not only great for lustrous hair but is also an act of cleansing the spirit. The persisting folk games of Dano are the swing, a game played by women, and Ssireum, a wrestling match among men. In addition, mask dance used to be popular among folks due to its penchant for satirical lyrics flouting local aristocrats. Dano rice cake and dumplings filled with Chinese herring are among the traditional foods taken in preparation for summer heat.
7. 입하 (立夏) - Ipha (start of summer) May 5
Ipha literally means approach of Summer. At this time of year (beginning on or around May 6), not only do the crops flourish, so do the weeds and harmful insects, which must be tended to. In old days, cotton was planted, and roofs were repaired for coming summer rains. Beekeepers were also busy, as flowers were in full blossom. Tree frogs croak and snake gourd plants appear.
The 8th day of the fourth lunar month.
Every temple in Korea decks itself out with rainbow strings of lanterns for a month or so. Buddhists celebrate this day with many events and much merrymaking. Among them are a symbolic bathing of the baby Buddha. Another ritual in which laymen can participate is called Tapdori, rounding the pagoda. The highlight is the Lantern Parade, which normally takes place on Sunday a week earlier. As dusk falls, thousands of monks and laypeople carry candlelit lanterns on poles. The joyful procession continues to Jogyesa, where a canopy of more lanterns hangs over the courtyard, turning the night sky into a nimbus of brilliant color.
8. 소만 (小滿) - Soman (grain full) May 21
Soman indicates that positive and negative forces have not yet reached their extremes. During this period, rice transplanting begins while the winter barley harvest time, the end for this crop, is undertaken. The winter barley begins to ripen. It is from this Little Swelling of maturing barley grains that Soman gets its name.
9. 망종 (芒種) - Mangjong (grain in ear) June 5
Mangjong literally means Bearded Seeds, indicating that this period is critical for crops with bearded grains and the time for the awn to appear. Barley must be harvested by the end of this period, or else it will spoil, while rice transplanting must be finished to allow a long enough growing season for the grain to mature. Praying mantises would appear, herons could be heard and chirping of thrushes would come to end.
10. 하지 (夏至) - Haji (summer solstice) June 21
Haji begins with the summer solstice. Since ancient times, it has been said that during this period, deer shed their antlers, cicadas begin to sing and buds from on Pinellia ternate, a bulbous herb used in Oriental medicine. Potatoes would be harvested and the rice planting completed. If rain did not start around this time, however, villages conducted Giuje ritual as a supplication for rainfall.
The fifteenth of the sixth moon
Yudu literally mean flow and head which were combined into the phrase; washing your hair in waters. It was believed that they would wash away potential misfortune, drive off evil spirits, and prevent heatstroke during the intense heat of summer. Urban and rural families alike observed rites in the early morning by setting a table and offering with newly harvested grains and fruits to the ancestral spirits as an expression of gratitude. People went to streams to bathe and to wash their hair, which they believed would stay healthy summer.
11. 소서 (小暑) - Soseo (minor heat) July 7
During this period, the heat gradually increases. It is also the time when seasonal rain front begins to hang over the peninsula. Humidity increases, and the rainy season often gets under way. Rice addies and fields were weeded and compost was prepared. Newly harvested fruits and vegetables were offered to the family's ancestors on Yudu day. Hot winds blow, crickets crawl up walls and hawks become aggressive.
Sambok or The Three Dog Days are considered to be the hottest periods of the year. They are first, middle, and last dog day that occur at ten-day intervals. The exact dates, which normally begin July 14 on solar calendar, differ each year depending on relation with solar terms and celestial stems. Since early times, in Korea, the Three Dog Days were associated with the custom of eating dog-meat soup or chicken stew in ginseng in the belief that it would help stay healthy in summer.
12. 대서 (大暑) - Daeseo (major heat) July 22
Daeseo or Great Heat (around July 23) marks the hottest period of the summer. Its 15 day period spans the middle of the sixth lunar month and includes the middle of the dog days, Jungbok. It is said that decomposing grass I stransfored in to a glow of firefliers, the soil turns soggy and the weather is muggy and heavy rains fall. The monsoon rains, which begin during Soseo, often exhibit their full force during Daeso.
The 7th day of the 7th moon.
On the evening of Chilseok, women and young girls offered prayer to Altair and Vega in the hope of improving their weaving and sewing skills. The legend has it that the two lovers; Weaver and Herder who were separated by the Milky Way allowed to meet once a year on this day. The magpies and crows would fly up to the Milky Way to form a bridge for the couple to walk across. This was done and the couple spent a blissful night together. When morning came, they again had to part for another year of solitude.
13. 입추 (立秋) - Ipchu (start of autumn) August 7
Ipchu means autumn begins. Wind in the morning and evening of the last day of summer was said to herald the start of autumn. It has washed away by the summer rains. A cool breezes blow, thick dew falls and evening cicada's distinctive sound can be heard.
The 15th day of the seventh moon
On Baekjung or Buddhist All Souls' Day, Uranbunjae is performed, a Buddhist ceremony, in the belief that the descendants' devotion in this world helps lead the spirits of their deceased ancestors to the land of bliss. Banbogi or halfway meeting was a tradition on Baekjung. Particularly the womenfolk took one day off to meet their mothers and daughters who had married out. They would meet short each other on the halfway between their homes so that the trip could be made in one day. On Jeju Island, everyone headed for the sea as the catches of fish and other marine life are plentiful.
14. 처서 (處暑) - Cheoseo (limit of heat) August 23
Cheseo literally means the Ending of Summer Heat. Cheoseo rain, it was believed, damaged the cereal grains, making it almost impossible to avoid a poor harvest. The Joseon ear practicing of the cutting the grass around ancestral graves on Cheoseo is still observed today.
15. 백로 (白露) - Baekro (white dew) September 7
Baekno means White Dew. The night temperature falls, causing a water vapor in the air to condense and form dew on blades of grass. The daytime weather can be chilly and grains ripen on the stalk. Wild geese return from the north, swallows depart for the south and birds stock up on food for the winter. Latter part of this period, the monsoon rains abated and the weather is fair and clear. However, winds from typhoons to the south and tidal waves may damage the fields of ripening grain.
The 15th day of the 8th lunar month
One of the foremost reasons why people return to their hometowns and family homes on Chuseok is to conduct ancestral rites. Nowadays, it is customary to perform two ancestral rites on Chuseok, as in the case on Lunar New Year's Day. The first of these, Charye, is performed during the early hours of the morning at the family shrine or in the home with a table of food and drink. The second, Seongmyo, includes a visit to the gravesites of any or all of the past five family heads to perform a graveside rite, Myoje. Chuseok festivities have traditionally included Ssireum wrestling, Teeter totter, Walking on the Roof Tiles, Court Game, Palanquin Fighting, Ganggang Sullae Dance, Tortoise Procession, or Greeting the Moon.
16. 추분 (秋分) - Chubun (autumnal equinox) September 22
Chubun begins with the autumnal equinox, when the day and the night are of equal length. Chubun occurs on or around September 23, and the ninth lunar month usually begins with during this period. This is harvest time, and all the crops are in plentitude. The rice stalks were made into sheaves that were used to make shocks, while the cotton was laid out to dry on the grass. Chusoek foods were prepared with grains from the newly harvested crops. The sound of thunder can be heard for the first time. Summer insects begin their winter dormancy and the water on the ground and in fields begins to dry up.
17. 한로 (寒露) - Hallo (cold dew) October 8
Hanno, which means Cold Dews, is the time of year just before the cold night air turns the dew to frost. It is during Hanno that the colored leaves are at their brightest. Numerous summer birds depart southward for warmer environs, while wild geese and other winter birds arrive from the north. Yellow chrysanthemums are in full bloom. Fried Chrysanthemum cake would be eaten and chrysanthemum wine made, while the fruits of the Korean evodia tree were worn in the hair to protect against the evil spirits.
18. 상강 (霜降) - Sanggang (frost descends) October 23
Sanggang means Frost Descends. During this period of late fall, the weather is continuously fair and clear, but the temperature drops considerably at night, allowing frost to form on the ground. The foliage turns a brownish-yellow and then falls to the ground. Worms and insects burrow underground to pass winter. At this time of year, grasshoppers were caught, fired and eaten as a delicacy, while wild fruits in the hills, such as grapes and akebia fruit, would be gathered.
19. 입동 (立冬) - Ipdong (start of winter) November 7
Ipdong marks the beginning of the three months of winter. The leaves cover the ground, and the cold wind pierces the skin. Ipdong has long been claimed to be the most suitable for making Kimchi and boiling fermented soybeans, but in recent years Kimchi-making season has gradually become later. During this period, water freezes for the first time, and the ground freezes.
20. 소설 (小雪) - Soseol (minor snow) November 22
Following Ipdong is Soseol, the Lesser Snow, as opposed to Daeseol, the Greater Snow, the nest seasonal term. Rainbow is no longer appear, the astrological heavenly forces withdraw their incluence, while the earthly forces come to the fore, in the form of a loss of heat and everything freezes and winter takes a root.
21. 대설 (大雪) - Daeseol (major snow) December 7
Daeseol means The Greater Snow. It was said that a heavy snowfall on the day of Daeseol would bring a bountiful harvest in the following year.
22. 동지 (冬至) - Dongji (winter solstice) December 21
Dongji, winter solstice, is the time of year with the shortest day and longest night. Dongji has gone by two different names, depending on the time of month that it falls. If Dongji came in the first half of the month, it was called Aedongji (Children's Dongji), and if it fell in the second half, Nodongji (Elderly Dongji). The reason for this was not related to any superstition, but due to the custom of considering everyone to be a year older on Dongji, so the sooner it came in the month, the better for children, while older people would prefer to wait longer to turn a year older. Azuki bean porridge was traditionally prepared and shared with neighbors on Dongji day, and placed at various locations in the house to drive away evil spirits. A new calendar was made and hung, while talisman with the Chinese character for snake was attached upside down to walls or pillars.
Koreans still observe the custom of keeping a vigil on New Year's Eve. The children in each family member give a deep bow in respect to their older relatives in a formal ritual called "old year farewells." People stay up all night, playing Yutnori or talking, mindful of the old saying, "If you fall asleep tonight, tomorrow your eyebrows will be snow-white." Particularly, Bosingak is an eye catching spot of the night. The bell is struck here at Bosingak, at midnight of Gregorian December 31, thirty-three times. The full 108 strokes are reduced to thirty-three, in reference to the thirty-three heavens in Buddhism. Crowds of people gather around Bosingak to join the annual rite of passage and hear the bell struck, united by the common hope that the New Year will be better than the last.
23. 소한 (小寒) - Sohan (minor cold) January 6
Sohan is the 15 days term after Dongji, which includes the winter solstice, and is followed by Daehan, literally meaning Greater Cold. But, in actuality, Sohan has consistently been the coldest period of the year in Korea.
24. 대한 (大寒) - Daehan (major cold) January 21
The term following Sohan is Daehan, a period of Greater Cold, the last of the 24 seasonal terms of the year. It is said that the ice of Sohan melts during Daehan. On the night of Daehan, beans were sprinkled on the ground or the floor to ward off evil spirits before welcoming in the New Year. The last day of Daehan is the last day of the winder season, which in olden times was regarded as having the importance of being the last day of the year. This night was called Haeneom, passage of the year, and at the sunset, soybeans were scattered about the rooms of the house to drive off evil spirits and to welcome the New Year free of misfortune.