Winter Solstice Sacrificial Rite(冬至告祀)
Dongji gosa (Kor. 동지고사, Chin. 冬至告祀) refers to the rite observed on Dongji (Kor. 동지, Chin. 冬至, Winter Solstice). The rite consists of sprinkling red bean porridge in various parts of a house in order to keep malicious spirits from entering. The custom is also known as patjukje (Kor. 팥죽제) or dongji charye (Kor. 동지차례, Chin. 冬至茶禮), depending on the region. Dongji has the shortest day and longest night of the year, after which daylight hours gradually increase. In traditional Korea, Dongji was consiedred a crucial transition point and was nearly as important as the Lunar New Year. Families observed the custom of cooking red bean porridge on this day. Its red color was believed to be a powerful agent against the harmful spirits that lurked around the house. Although it is not precisely known when red bean porridge started to be used for this exorcism, records of red bean porridge as a seasonal dish appeared in books of the Goryeo period (918-1392), including the “Mogeunjip” (Kor. 목은집, Chin. (牧隱集, Collected Works of Mogeun, 1626), and “Ikjaejip” (Kor. 익재집, Chin. 益齋集, Collected Works of Ikjae, 1635). Based on these records, the custom of sprinkling porridge to thwart spirits is likely to have been practiced at that time.
Sprinkling red bean porridge was a custom observed nationwide. Although the details of this custom varied depending on region, the essential gesture remained the same: sprinkling red bean porridge both inside and outside the house in order to bar the entry of undesirable spirits.
The custom still exists in modern Korea, and some rural Korean households sprinkle red bean porridge near the garden fence with the help of a spoon or a pine branch dipped in the porridge. Afterwards, if the house contains an ancestral shrine, a bowl of red bean porridge is offered at its altar. Then, bowls of porridge are served to the teoju god who is believed to inhabit the jar platform in the yard and the seongju god who resides in the bedroom. Bowls with porridge are sometimes placed in all the rooms of the house and other parts of the house, including the barn. Not eating red bean porridge on Dongji was believed to accelerate aging and make one frail and disease-prone, as well as make one easy prey for sundry spirits. Consuming red bean porridge on Dongji was also believed to prevent boils.
Koreans of the past perceived the winter solstice not only as the threshold of a new year, but also a time when new household deities succeeded the old ones. The religious aspect of Dongji, originates from the mixture of hopes and fears that people felt about what lay ahead during the transition between an old and new year.