Cold Food Day(寒食)
Hansik (Kor. 한식, Chin. 寒食, lit. cold food) occurs on the 105th day after the winter solstice and approximately April fifth on the Gregorian calendar. It is one of the four major holidays in Korea, along with New Year’s Day, Dano and Chuseok. According to a Chinese custom, people refrained from using fire and ate cold food on this day. For this reason the day can also be referred to as Geumyeonil (Kor. 금연일, Chin. 禁烟日, lit. No Smoke Day), Suksik (Kor. 숙식, Chin. 熟食, lit. Cooked Food), or Naengjeol (Kor. 냉절, Chin. 冷節, lit. Cold Day). As Hansik is not based on the lunar calendar, it can fall during either the second or the third lunar month. In traditional Korea, people believed that if Hansik occurred in the second lunar month, it was a sign suggesting a good year with warm weather. When Hansik fell on the third lunar month, people in some regions avoided planting grass on their family burial mounds on that day.
In modern Korea, Hansik has lost much of its importance in comparison to the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) dynasties because many of the related customs and festivities have been forgotten. However, customs related to ancestor worship are still practiced. Families may hold a memorial service in their ancestral shrine or travel to their family’s gravesites. In Seoul and its environs, families sometimes perform a worship service to mountain spirits before proceeding to an ancestor memorial ceremony. Tombs of distant ancestors who were not included in the memorial services or relatives who died without a direct descendant are visited on this day as well.
A lot of activities on Hansik are related to caring for the graves because evil spirits were believed to be inactive on this day and could bring no harm. It is a time for families to plant new grass on their ancestral burial mounds or set up a new epitaph or sangseok (Kor. 상석, Chin. 床石, an altar-like flat stone slab fronting a tomb). In addition, relocating a tomb is often done on this day. The custom of visiting ancestral tombs and looking after them has been maintained until the present, in part due to the fact that Hansik falls on or around Tree Planting Day (April 5), which is a national holiday.
Hansik marks the beginning of the farming season as well. Rural households would briefly take their oxen outdoors in order to see how strong they were for the upcoming plowing season. The weather conditions on the day also served as precursors to the harvest.