Festival of the Fifth of the Fifth Month(端午)
Dano (Kor. 단오, Chin. 端午, lit. first fifth) refers to the traditional holiday celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The first syllable in the name, dan, stands for “first” and o means “five”; hence the word can be translated literally as “the first fifth”. Dano has been a major holiday in Korea since early times as the day is believed to be filled with the positive energy yang. According to a Chinese history book of the 7th century, “Suishu” (Kor. 수서, Chin. 隋書, The Book of Sui), the people of Silla (BCE 57 - CE 937) worshipped the sun and the moon; Dano was one of the festivals that celebrated the sun.
In traditional Korea, a variety of rituals took place on this day. During the Joseon period (1392-1910), for instance, members of the court presented the king with a danocheop (Kor. 단오첩, Chin. 端午帖, Dano poetry collection). The king, in turn, gave them special Dano fans which were made by court artisans or were tributes from the provinces. Most of the households performed an ancestral worship service called dano jeolsa (Kor. 단오절사, Chin. 端午節祀) in which they offered newly harvested cherries on the sacrificial table. Another ceremony, referred to as dano gosa (Kor. 단오고사, Chin. 端午告祀), was held to ensure peace in the family, a rich harvest, and prosperity of descendants.
Women washed their hair with the extract of Korean iris (changpo, Kor. 창포, Chin. 菖蒲, Acorus calamus var. angustatus). They also decorated their hair with gunggungi flowers (Kor. 궁궁이, Angelica polymorpha) in the belief that the flower’s unique fragrance would help repel evil forces. Another custom consisted of carving an iris root into a hair pin and engraving it with Chinese characters with auspicious meanings such as subok (Kor. 수복, Chin. 壽福, lit. longevity and fortune) or painting it red. The red pigment, largely made from safflower or cinnabar, was considered to be a color of brightness that could help to thwart evil forces. Wearing a hair pin made in such a way was supposed to help women cope better with hot summer weather and stay healthy. The customs of washing one’s face and hair with iris extract, wearing a new set of clothes, and decorating one’s hair with flowers and pins were part of a larger tradition referred to as danojang (Kor. 단오장, Chin. 端午粧, lit. Dano decoration).
As Dano was believed to be the day of abundant yang energy, amulets made on this day were thought to be especially powerful and capable of chasing away all evil spirits and bad luck from the family. On Dano, Koreans collected and dried various herbs such as mugwort and motherwort for this purpose. Farmers often set bundles of mugwort against the gate of their houses to repel evil forces. Dried mugwort was used to treat diseases via moxibustion or decoction. In another custom, daechunamu sijip bonaegi (Kor. 대추나무 시집보내기, lit. date tree mating), people placed a small rock between any two branches of a date tree in hopes that it would make the tree bear more fruit than in normal years. Some people would have their seals made on Dano, usually with Korean quince or date wood, because seals carved on this day were believed to bring fortune.
Many games and events were held during the Dano festival. Young people erected a swing with ropes made from hay collected from all the houses in the community. Everyone, irrespective of age and gender, put on their best attire and enjoyed swinging. Young men competed with each other in traditional wrestling known as ssireum (Kor. 씨름). Events and ceremonies varied greatly according to the region. Some of the most famous Dano performances include Gangneung Danoje (Kor. 강릉단오제, Chin. 江陵端午祭, lit. Gangneung Dano Festival), Bongsan Talchum (Kor. 봉산탈춤, Chin. 鳳山–, lit. Bongsan Mask Dance), Songpa Sandae Nori (Kor. 송파산대놀이, Chin. 松坡山臺–, lit. Songpa Sandae Mask-dance Drama), and Yangju Byeolsandae Nori (Kor. 양주별산대놀이, Chin. 楊州別山臺–, lit. Yangju Mask-dance Drama).