Day of Pure Brightness(淸明)
The fifth of the twenty-four solar terms, Cheongmyeong (Kor. 청명, Chin. 淸明, Day of Pure Brightness) falls on the third lunar month. The name, meaning “pure brightness, ” describes the gradual clearing of the sky, which occurs in spring around April fifth or sixth on the Gregorian calendar. Cheongmyeong is the time when the sun is positioned at 15 degrees on the ecliptic. Cheongmyeong falls on the day before Hansik (Kor. 한식, Chin. 寒食, Cold Food Day) or on the same day as Hansik, and is usually between Chunbun (Kor. 춘분, Chin. 春分, Spring Equinox) and Gogu (Kor. 곡우, Chin. 穀雨, Grain Rain).
According to the entry of Cheongmyeong in the “Dongguk Sesigi” (Kor. 동국세시기, Chin. 東國歲時記, A Record of Seasonal Customs in Korea, 1849), the king’s servants would start a fire on this day by rubbing a willow branch against an elm trunk and offer the flame to the king. The king then handed out torches made from this flame to the members of his court and governors of 360 towns across the country. This custom of distributing fire was called sahwa (Kor. 사화, Chin. 賜火, lit. gifting fire). Town governors made more torches out of the torch received from the king and handed them out to people in their jurisdiction. This was the “new fire”, which was to replace the “old fire”. Until the arrival of the torch from the capital, people were not allowed to cook or heat their food. This accounts for the origin of Hansik, or “Cold Food Day”. Consequently, since Cheongmyeong and Hansik frequently fell on the same day, the two days became interchangeable in people’s minds.
In the farming calendar, Cheongmyeong corresponds to the period during which rice paddies and dry fields are tilled in preparation for planting. As a major point in the farming timeline, Cheongmyeong has many folk beliefs associated with it. A clear Cheongmyeong (or Hansik) day was a positive sign for the upcoming farming year. Good weather on a Cheongmyeong or Hansik day for the fishing communities predicted an increase in fish varieties and a large catch, while a windy Cheongmyeong day was considered a bad omen.
In some parts of Korea, Cheongmyeong is regarded as an auspicious day in which no harm can occur. Therefore, people in traditional Korea often spent this day on the activities which they believed could cause harm if conducted at the wrong time. For instance, people spent time weeding and refurbishing ancestral graves, and mending their homes.