As I'm sure many of you know, Valentine's Day took place on Monday this week. While it's true that the observance of Valentine's Day (밸런타인데이) is different in Korea than it is in most of North American and Western Europe it's not really a subject that I considered writing about. I did, however, receive chocolate from a few of my female students today and told them that I would reciprocate on White Day.
Instead, there is another holiday this week that I am looking forward to with much more interest: Jeongwol Daeboreum (정월 대보름), which is a festival to celebrate the first full moon in the lunar year. I've written about Daeboreum in the past - here and here - and asked a few of my students what they had planned for the day. Despite having a few anonymous commenters on my blog claim that Korean traditional customs are 'all dead' it seems the news hasn't filtered through to Uijeongbu just yet. While the majority of my students weren't planning to do anything special for Daeboreum a few said their parents had recently bought a lot of nuts in relation to the holiday.
Walnuts (호두) and peanuts (땅콩) for sale in downtown Uijeongbu
Go back a few centuries and fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to come by during the winter months; as a result, nuts were consumed as a healthy alternative. What I found particularly interesting though was the news that several of my students intended to participate in a Daljip Taeugi (달집태우기) ceremony. This event is one of the more visible aspects of Daeboreum and involves assembling a tower of pine branches or straw bundles that is used to make a bonfire when night falls.
The recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease (구제역) in Korea has kept many people from traveling to the countryside if it can be avoided and a couple of my students were disappointed that their family would not be doing daljip taeugi this year. There are places in Seoul that will hold the daljip taeugi ceremony but I'm not sure if any of my students will attend. One girl told me that her parents always help her build a daljip tower in the parking lot of their apartment building, with one layer added to the tower each year as she grows older. Another student at our academy mentioned that he will probably build a daljip this year but doesn't know where it will take place.
There are other foods associated with Daeboreum in addition to nuts. You can see some of the foods and their Korean names here, which is a photo taken from the bottom of this page. One food in particular that is consumed on Daeboreum is 'medicinal rice' -- also known as yakbap (약밥) and yakshik (약식). Choe Sang-su mentions this food in Annual Customs of Korea and begins the entry with:
To make this food [yangbap], first steam glutinous rice, and mix with such fruits as dates, chestnuts, and pine-nuts; then add wine, sugar, and soy sauce, and steam it again. The dish is also called yagsig (sic), meaning the same thing, and is much appreciated by the people. This dish may have started during the Silla period since there is an article suggestive of this entitled "Shoot the harp box" in the first volume of the Samgug-yusa (sic) [...]
Yakshik (약식). Photo taken from here. Includes cooking directions.
I checked my copy of the Samguk Yusa (삼국 여사; 三國遺事) and the story does appear in Book One as Story 26. It takes place during the reign of King Soji (479–500) of the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE – 935 AD). A version of the story has been posted to Korea4expats, though for some reason their account features a different king, different dates, and a slightly different set of events. However, their version is more succinct so I will include it below:
Legend has it that Yaksik is eaten in memory of the crow that saved the life of King Yuri (24-57) from the Silla Kingdom. King Yuri was eating ‘alfresco’ in his garden on the day of the first full moon, when a passing crow dropped a’letter’ at his feet. On the outside was written, “If opened, two shall die. If not opened, one will die.” The puzzled king as[ked] some of his advisors for an explanation and was given the following interpretation, “The ‘one’ refers to your majesty, while the ‘two’ are other people.” So the King opened the letter and read the message it contained, “Shoot an arrow into the harp case.” He hurried back to the palace and did so. As he looked into the case, he found his Queen and a monk, dead in each other’s embrace. It appears, that the Queen had fallen in love with the monk and the two had been planning to murder her husband, the King, that very night. To repay the the crow, the King proclaimed the 15th, the day of the first full moon, the day on which his life was saved, as Crow Thanksgiving Day.
In gratitude, a rite to the crow was held with an offering of black rice, the color of the crow. During the Goryeo period, black rice was replaced with sweetened rice made with honey, dates and chestnuts. The common people usually replace the expensive yaksik with the more affordable five-grain dish, ogokbap.
There's a bit more involved with the Daeboreum celebrations, but I think I'll save that for another time.