Three Dog Days(三伏)
Sambok (Kor. 삼복, Chin. 三伏) refers to the three days in the sixth and seventh lunar months, which are considered to be the hottest days of the year. The exact dates differ each year and are calculated based on the relation to the solar terms and celestial stems. The three Dog Days are Chobok (Kor. 초복, Chin. 初伏, lit. First Dog Day), Jungbok (Kor. 중복, Chin. 中伏, lit. Middle Dog Day), and Malbok (Kor. 말복, Chin. 末伏, lit. Last Dog Day) and occur at ten-day intervals.
The concept of the Three Dog Days was introduced to Korea from China during the Qin dynasty (BCE 221 – BCE 206). Each Dog Day can be referred to as bongnal (Kor. 복날, Chin. 伏-) which literally means ‘a day [when the yin energy] falls prostrate [before the soaring yang energy]’. The Chinese character bok (伏) displays a feature in which a man lies flat on the ground like a dog, suggesting that the summer heat is overwhelming and does not allow the autumn cool to set in.
Historically in Korea, the Three Dog Days were associated with the custom of eating dog-meat soup or ginseng chicken soup because people believed that consuming these foods would help them stay healthy during the summer. The custom of escaping from the heat to a valley with a stream, and cooking and eating dog meat soup in the shade of the trees was called bokdarim (Kor. 복달임, boiling on Dog Day) or bongnori (Kor. 복놀이, lit. Dog Day pleasure). Consuming red bean porridge, watermelons, or melons on the Dog Days was also considered an efficient method to prevent summer diseases and cope better with the heat.
Hong Seok-mo (1781-1850), a 19th century scholar, documented the custom of eating dog meat on the Dog Days in his book, “Dongguk Sesigi” (Kor. 동국세시기, Chin. 東國歲時記, A Record of Seasonal Customs in Korea, 1849): “Gaejang (Kor. 개장, Chin. 狗醬, dog meat soup) is made by simmering dog meat with leek for a long time over a low heat. It tastes better if chicken or bamboo shoots are added. When sprinkled with chili powder and eaten with rice, it will make you sweat, which increases your stamina. According to the “Shiji” [Kor. 사기, Chin. 史記, The Records of the Great Historian], in BCE 676, the Virtuous Duke of Qin held the first sacrificial ritual with dog meat in order to mark the year’s hottest period and prevent damage by harmful insects. Since then, dog meat has become the best of all foods eaten on the Three Dog Days."
The purpose of eating dog meat on a Dog Day was to supplement the “metal energy” that was lacking in the human body during this period of summer. In the Taoist philosophy of Five Elements, a dog represents the west and Metal. The heat on a Dog Day is the energy of Fire, which melts the energy of Metal. Therefore, people believed that consuming dog meat full of the energy of Metal would help them restore balance in mind and body.
Koreans across the country on a Dog Day would leisurely make short excursions with food and drink to a nearby valley or forest. In downtown Seoul, people gathered at a valley in Samcheong-dong to drink water from Seongjo Well and wash their body and hair in the stream. Some believed that washing their hair with natural spring water would help cure skin diseases and prevent strokes. People in Gangwon Province caught spiders on a Dog Day, and dried and ground them into powder to use in winter as a remedy against the cold.
Farming communities welcomed Dog Days because hot sunny weather stimulated the quick growth of rice. In accordance with the folk belief that rice becomes one year older on the first of the three Dog Days, farmers performed a rite called bokje (Kor. 복제, Chin. 伏祭, Dog Day ceremony). The rite consisted of bringing rice cake and pan-fries to the rice paddies, offering them to the god of agriculture, and praying for an abundant harvest.
The weather on the Dog Days was used to predict the outcome of farming that year. In Jeolla Province and the Busan area, rain on a Dog Day was called "farming rain" and was regarded as auspicious while in Gangwon Province a thunderstorm meant a poor fruit harvest. A popular proverb states: “Rain on a Dog Day makes a Boeun girl cry”. Boeun is the name of an area famous for plantations of date trees, which begin to bear fruit around the time of the Three Dog Days. Rain may interfere with this process and produce a poor harvest, leaving a farming family with a small income. This in turn could affect the marriage prospects of a single girl in that family.