Sahanje (Kor. 사한제, Chin. 司寒祭) refers to the rite held at the Sahandan Altar with sacrifices to Xuanming (Kor. 현명씨, Chin. 玄冥氏, god of cold and the north). The royal house of Joseon (1392-1910) observed a rite called jangbingje (Kor. 장빙제, Chin. 藏氷祭, lit. ice storage ceremony) during the twelfth lunar month when they put ice in the ice chamber for use the following spring and summer. On Chunbun (Kor. 춘분, Chin. 春分, Spring Equinox), when they opened the ice chamber, they observed another rite called gaebingje (Kor. 개빙제, Chin. 開氷祭, lit. ice chamber opening ceremony). A rite referred to as gihanje (Kor. 기한제, Chin. 祈寒祭, lit. cold-praying ceremony) or dongbingje (Kor. 동빙제, Chin. 凍氷祭, lit. winter ice ceremony) was also held when the weather was unusually mild, and no freezing occurred in a winter month. Such cold and ice-related rites were collectively called sahanje, and were performed on a relatively small scale among the many state-organized rites of the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties.
Collecting and storing ice in winter for use the following spring and summer was a practice dating back to the Three Kingdoms period (BCE 1st century - CE 668). In the “Samguk Sagi” (Kor. 삼국사기, Chin. 三國史記, History of the Three Kingdoms, 1145), one finds in the fourth volume entitled “Silla Bongi” (Kor. 신라본기, Chin. 新羅本紀, Official Chronicle of Silla) the following passage, dated the eleventh month of the 6th year of Jijeung Maripgan’s reign (505): “The first-ever order was issued to a government agency to store ice.” In Silla (BCE 57 - CE 935), a government agency called Binggojeon (Kor. 빙고전, Chin. 氷庫典, Office for Storing Ice) administered and managed the ice chamber, which stored ice to be supplied to the royal household. Surviving records related to Silla mention nothing related to the sahanje rite.
The name sahanje is first mentioned in history books about the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392). According to Volume 63 of “Goryeosa” (Kor. 고려사, Chin. 高麗史, The History of Goryeo, 1451), sahan designated both the rite held in Maengdong (Kor. 맹동, Chin. 孟冬, tenth lunar month), when ice was placed into the ice storage chamber, and the one held on Chunbun, when the ice was taken out of the chamber. The document further explains that a pig was sacrificed in each sahan rite.
During the Joseon dynasty, on the thirteenth of the fourth month in the 13th year of King Taejong’s reign (1413), sahanje was declared a sosa (Kor. 소사, Chin. 小祀, small-scale national rite), following the classification of ceremonies established during the preceding Goryeo dynasty. There is a record dated the ninth of the eleventh month in the 20th year of King Sejong’s reign (1448), according to which sahanje took place in the eleventh lunar month; the ice was placed in the chamber at a different time each year depending on the weather conditions, but it usually happened in the twelfth month. Accordingly, a decision was made that the rite would be observed around the time when ice was actually stored, sometime in the twelfth lunar month.
The sahanje rites were held to ensure proper storage of the ice, which was used during the summer, during state rituals and festive events at the royal court. They reflect the value that was assigned in traditional society to the laws of seasonal changes that govern nature, and concern over anomalous weather.