Great Full Moon Festival
Referred to by various names such as Sangwon (Kor. 상원, Chin. 上元, lit. High Beginning), Ogiil (Kor. 오기일, Chin. 烏忌日, lit. Crown Memorial Day) and Daldo (Kor. 달도, Chin. 怛忉, lit. Sorrow and Anxiety), Jeongwol Daeboreum (Kor. 정월대보름, lit. Great Full Moon of the First Month) is a traditional folk festival held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Unlike the Lunar New Year’s Day, which was usually celebrated through family events, the Great Full Moon Festival provided an occasion for many community celebrations, including the dongje (Kor. 동제, Chin. 洞祭, village tutelary festival). The purpose of these celebrations was to promote unity and solidarity among the community members.
One of the major events of the Great Full Moon celebrations was a performance of a local farmers’ band, also known as jisinbapgi (Kor. 지신밟기, lit. treading the earth god), maegu (Kor. 매구, Chin. 埋鬼, lit. underground ghost) and geollip (Kor. 걸립, Chin. 乞粒, lit. grain begging). It included parading around the village and visiting each house to entertain its inhabitants with music and dance, and to pray for good fortune. The custom did not spread to the northern provinces of Korea, Pyeongan-do and Hamgyeong-do, as the villages in that region usually did not have farmers’ bands.
In some areas the performance developed into a ceremony called gisebae (Kor. 기세배, Chin. 旗歲拜, lit. New Year’s flag greetings). For this ceremony farmers’ bands gathered from many neighboring towns along with the villages’ flag bearers to exchange the New Year greetings. In North Jeolla Province (southwest of the Korean Peninsula), the ceremony was often followed by the bands’ performances and sometimes turned into fierce competitions between the flag bearers so that the order of performance could be established.
Common people believed that putting a stone at the stem of fruit tree branches on the first full moon day or a day before would bring a rich harvest of fruits in autumn. Some people would steal some earth from the courtyard of a rich neighbor on the eve of the Full Moon Festival and rub it around their fireplace, hoping that it would bring fortune to their own home. This was called bokto humchigi (Kor. 복토훔치기, Chin. 福土-), i.e. “stealing fortune earth”. Another practice, yongal tteugi (Kor. 용알뜨기, lit. dragon-egg harvesting), involved waiting for the first call of a rooster at dawn of the Great Full Moon Day and then rushing to the well to draw water from it before others. It was believed that the winner would produce a good harvest in the autumn of the year.
Due to the fact that the sound dari (Kor. 다리) means both “bridge” and “leg”, walking on a bridge on the night of the Full Moon Festival, according to old records, would give one strong legs in the coming year. There was also a custom of repeating daily actions nine times on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the first lunar month. For example, woodcutters carried home nine loads of firewood, rope makers twisted nine fathoms of rope, housewives washed clothes nine times, and students read a book nine times. The underlying belief was that this custom would make people rich, but in fact it taught them diligence.
During the Great Full Moon Festival people engaged in various divination practices related to the harvest. In one such ritual referred to as daljip taeugi (Kor. 달집태우기, lit. burning the moon house), young villagers on a hill built a house called daljip (Kor. 달집, lit. moon house) with straw, pine needles, and tree branches. Cheering loudly, they set it on fire when the moon began to rise. They placed bamboo pieces in the house, which exploded like fire crackers, making loud noises intended to expel evil forces from their village. They then tried to predict whether there would or would not be a good harvest that year by the way in which the house burnt and in which direction it fell. The manner in which cows ate their feed was also a means for fortune telling. On the eve of the Great Full Moon Festival cows were given a special gruel of five grains mixed with straw. If a cow first ate rice, it meant that the year would be good for rice cultivation, but if it started with beans, then the year would be prosperous with cotton.
Another custom on the Great Full Moon Day is related to kites. On this day people cut the string of the kites which they have been flying since the beginning of the Lunar New Year. This custom is called aengmagiyeon (Kor. 액막이연, lit. evil-preventing kite), songaek (Kor. 송액, Chin. 送厄, lit. farewell misfortune) or songaek-yeongbok (Kor. 송액/송액영복, Chin. 送厄/送厄迎福, lit. farewell misfortune and welcome fortune). Releasing the kite in the air with a short written prayer symbolizes casting away bad luck.
Another popular custom called "heat-selling" (deowi-palgi, Kor. 더위팔기) occurs during the morning of the festival day when a “heat-seller” goes outside and calls out the names of people as soon as he meets them. If the person whose name is called responds, the heat seller shouts "Buy my heat!" Koreans believe that by doing so the heat-seller passes his struggles in hot summer weather to the heat-buyer and would thus have a cooler summer that year.
On the Great Full Moon Day people drank “ear-sharpening liquor” (gwibalgi sul, Kor. 귀밝이술, Chin. 耳明酒). A cup of this liquor served cold was supposed not only to bring sharp ears, but also to give the blessing of hearing good news all year round. In addition, people cracked nuts (bureom kkaegi, Kor. 부럼깨기), and ate them believing that it would keep them safe from boils for a year. They ate chalbap (Kor, 찰밥, lit. glutinous rice) and yakbap (Kor. 약밥, Chin. 藥飯, lit. medicinal rice), the latter being made by boiling glutinous rice with dates, chestnuts, vegetable oil, honey and soy sauce and garnishing it with pine nuts. The rice was usually served with assorted seasoned vegetables, mugeun namul (Kor. 묵은나물, lit. old vegetables (pumpkin and radish strips, eggplants, mushrooms and young fernbrakes)), which were gathered and dried for the occasion in the summer of the previous year. Koreans believed that eating this food on the Great Full Moon Day or its Eve would help them suffer less from the heat next summer. Another popular side dish was bokssam (Kor. 복쌈, lit. fortune wraps), which was made by wrapping rice in the leaves of aster or dried seaweed.
Many community members during the Great Full Moon Festival participated in various folk games. Juldarigi (Kor. 줄다리기, tug-of-war) was one of the most loved folk games played on the night of the Great Full Moon Day. In South Jeolla Province, villages in the Jangheung, Gangjin and Yeongam areas the tug-of-war was preceded by a game called gossaum (Kor. 고싸움, lit. loop fight) in which the winning team was the one that forced to the ground the loop-end of the opposite team’s rope. Originally a precursor to the main tug-of-war event, the game is still popular today, but in the villages of Chilseok-dong in Nam-gu, Gwangju, it has developed into its own independent game.
The fight of wooden bulls, referred to as soemoridaegi (Kor. 쇠머리대기, lit. bull heads fight) is played today only in Yeongsan in Changnyeong-gun, South Gyeongsang Province. Although traditionally a Great Full Moon Festival event, it is currently performed on March 1, the day which commemorates the March First Independence Movement of 1919. In 1968 it was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Treasure with the wooden heads measuring 495 cm long and 385 cm high. Similar to the gossaum and chajeon nori (Kor. 차전놀이, chariot battle), it is a simple contest in which two opponents, the East and the West teams, push and press each other down by sheer physical force to win.
Seokjeon (Kor. 석전, Chin. 石戰, lit. stone fight) was a combat-like folk event held as part of the Great Full Moon Festival in which two opposing teams representing neighboring communities threw stones at each other. A victory would bring a good harvest to the community. A similar event called hwaetbul ssaum (Kor. 횃불싸움, torch fight) took place on the night of the Great Full Moon Day, and pitted two teams against each other. Each would try to win by shouting and wielding torches, which sometimes involved the burning of opponents’ clothes. Victory went to the team who stole or extinguished more enemy torches, or who made the opposing team withdraw from the fight.
Notdari bapgi (Kor. 놋다리밟기, lit. treading on the bronze bridge), a folk event performed by village women to celebrate the first full moon, was a well-choreographed procession in which participants formed a human bridge by holding each other’s waists and slouching forward. Then a “princess” helped by two maids at both sides walked over this long line of bent backs. Other festive performances included a play with masks referred to as deulnoreum (Kor. 들놀음, lit. field play) in Busanjin, Dongnae and Suyeong in Gyeongsang Province and ogwangdae (Kor. 오광대, lit. [performance of] five players) in Tongyeong and Goseong. It originally was held on the night of the fourteenth or fifteenth of the first lunar month. In Tongyeong the celebration included the performance of a mask dance, an alms-begging parade around a village, and an exorcism to expel evil forces. The custom gradually became part of other celebrations such as a spring festival held in March or April and a festival of autumn leaves in September.