New Year’s Flag Greetings
Gisebae (Kor. 기세배, Chin. 旗歲拜, lit. New Year’s flag greetings) is a custom observed during Jeongwol Daeboreum (Kor. 정월대보름, Great Full Moon Festival) with the purpose of praying for an abundant harvest. As its name implies, the custom involves the use of flags that are referred to as nongsingi (Kor. 농신기, Chin. 農神旗, lit. farming god flag). Gisebae is also known under other names such as nonggi sebae (Kor. 농기세배, Chin. 農旗歲拜, lit. greetings of farming flags), nonggi bbaetgi (Kor. 농기뺏기, Chin. 農旗-, lit. snatching farming flags), gissaum (Kor. 기싸움, Chin. 旗-, lit. flag fight), gijeol (Kor. 기절, lit. flag bows) or gijeop nori (Kor. 기접놀이, Chin. 旗接-, performance with flags).
Gisebae is both a form of New Year’s greetings and a contest of strength; it can sometimes lead to violent scuffles. For this event members of village cooperatives, or dure (Kor. 두레) of neighboring villages, would either gather in one place or alternate villages. The goals of the custom were to pray for an abundant harvest and to celebrate unity and solidarity among the members of the community. Visits between villages most often were paid by those that ranked lower in the traditional hierarchy to those ranking higher. After a host village received the flag greetings of the guest village, the members of both villages performed an exorcism rite known as hapgut (Kor. 합굿, Chin. 合-) for the prosperity of their communities. This rite involved games with the flags, and musical and dance performances, through which the two communities could strengthen their ties with each other.
The custom also performed the function of affirming the authority of the village cooperatives. The flag greetings consisted of tilting the flag forward at a 15-degree angle as if the flag was “bowing” to the flag of the other village. In response to this “bow, ” the superior village’s flag was waved to the left and right in order to salute the subordinate village’s flag.