Thursday, February 9, 2012

KOREAN CULTURE: The First Full Moon Festival (3)

Daeboreum (대보름) and its Superstitions and Customs 

Bureom and Gwibalggisul (Hard Shell Nuts and Refined Rice Wine)

A Bureom corner at Korean grocery store
(Picture source: Chungcheong Today)

BUREOM:  Korean Daeboreum celebration was traditionally started out by eating Ogokbap and 9 kinds of Namul dishes on the night before and continued into the next day, Daeboreum Day or the First Full Moon Day, by cracking on nutshells with their own teeth, which was actually the first thing they did when they woke up the next morning.  The nuts with hard shells (such as chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and ginkgo nuts) cracked and eaten early on Daeboreum Morning are called Bureom (부럼).  Koreans crack the same number of nuts as their age, but the elderly with weak gums and teeth crack just one or two. In ancient Korea, strong teeth were believed to be a barometer of health; hence, cracking Bureom was kind of a dental exam.  

Must items in Bureom baskets are chestnuts and Korean radishes.  Chestnuts are in Su (, “water”) of the Taoist Five Phases called Ohaeng (오행) or Wu Xing – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Korean radishes or Mu (), on the other hand, are a star root vegetable.  Both chestnuts and radishes symbolize Earth and the kidneys in the human body as well.  This is quite a metaphorical concept:  As strong roots are essential for healthy plants, strong kidneys are for a healthy body.  The ancient Koreans prayed for the health and peace in their family by shouting out loud, “For the peace and quiet all year round!” as they cracked the nuts.  They tried to crack a nut at one try as it meant better luck.  The very first nut cracked with teeth was tossed into the courtyard and the rest were eaten. 

Bureom is derived from a native Korean verb bureuda (부르다, “to call”) since they tossed it to the ground to “call the Spirit of Earth,” wishing it would bring them longevity, health, and peace.  As it happens, Bureom is similar to   Buseureom (부스럼, “a kind of skin trouble”) in spelling and pronunciation.  And, all too often, it’s been misinterpreted as derived from Buseureom and it’s been undoubtedly considered “a fact” that the hard shell nuts are cracked by teeth and tossed to the ground to prevent skin troubles. It’s been falsely believed too that cracking the nuts on Daeboreum Morning would keep your teeth strong and healthy all year round when it’s actually the other way round as mentioned above.  This tradition of munching on nuts has complemented the ancient Koreans’ diet deficient in vitamins and other nutrients during the long, long winter months.

GWIBALGGISUL:  It was customary that, before breakfast, the ancient Koreans had Bureom with an accompanying glass of Cheongju (청주, “refined rice wine”), which is called Gwibalggisul (귀밝기술)or Imyeongju (이명주, 耳明酒).  Koreans drink cheongju, refined rice wine, cold in spring and summer and warm in fall and winter; but just like Seolsul or Seju on New Year’s Day, Gwibalggisul is served cold on Daeboreum.

In the theory of Eum-Yang (-, “Ying-Yang”) of Gi (, “Qi”) philosophy, eyes are considered as Heaven thus Yang while ears as Earth thus Ying.  The ancient Koreans were careful of what they saw through their eyes and what they heard through their ears but put much more weight on the latter since they thought a man of virtue and wit should listen closely and carefully to others and try to understand others deeply.  In the word gwibalggi (native Korean) or imyeong (Sino-Korean), gwi or i means “ear” and balggi or myeong “clear; make something clear” and put together, the word translates to “make someone sharp-eared.”  In short, the ancient Koreans had a glass of rice wine on Daeboreum Morning to open their ears to listen well1 – the art of listening if you will.

1.  It was also believed drinking rice wine would help prevent ear infections and improve hearing, and there would be only good news all year round.

Deowi Palgi (Selling the Summer Heat)
When I was little, I was not that big a fan of Ogokbap and Namul, which I lurve sooooo much now, so I couldn’t care less about Daeboreum except for the cracking-the-nut part and this! – Deowi Palgi or Selling the Summer Heat.  This is kind of a customary joke that people get up before the dawn of Daeboreum Day and catch the first person they see off-guard.  First, you have to call his name to get his attention and shout, “Buy and take all my summer heat!”  But here’s the catch: You can sell him your summer heat if and only if he responds back to your calling:

“Buy and take all my summer heat!”

Beware your “preemptive” move could turn out to be suicidal if John is smart enough to deliver a counterblow without responding back to your calling:

“Buy and take all my summer heat!”

Here’s the authentic way of selling the summer heat:  (i) The ancient Koreans woke up before the dawn of Daeboreum Day, took a branch of a peach tree growing outward to the east, make a ring necklace with it, and place the branch necklace around the neck of their dog, saying, “Dog, may you not suffer heatstroke this summer”; (ii) they wove a straw rope, twisted in a leftward spiral and place it around the neck of their cow, saying, “Cow, may you not suffer heatstroke this summer”; and then (iii) they went out to sell their summer heat.  According to Seasonal Customs of the Eastern Kingdom (1849) (Dongguk Sesigi), in which the Eastern Kingdom refers to Joseon Dynasty then and Korea now, you will not suffer heatstroke or heat exhaustion during summer if you successfully sell someone your summer heat. 

Members of Super Junior sell each other 
their summer heat on Daeboreum

Some of Korean newspaper articles recently reported that there’s a new trend on the rise among Korean Netizens in selling the summer heat – they sell their summer heat by exchanging messages through KaKao Talk or Social Networking Services (SNS) like Twitter or Facebook.

"My summer heat was automatically sent to you."
Deowi Palgi image on line-1

“Buy and take all my summer heat!”
Deowi Palgi image on line-2

 Dongje (Village Rituals)

Although it varies from Province to Province, Korean farming villages hold collaborative rituals called Dongje (동제洞祭) on Daeboreum Eve, around midnight.  Each and every family in a village chips in for the ritual and chooses a lofty, pure man as the officiant of the ritual to pray for the abundance and peace of their own village.

Scenes from Dongje, "Village Rituals"

 Juldarigi (Tug of War)

Juldarigi (줄다리기) is one of the Daeboreum pastimes played to wish for the New Year’s abundance and fertility.  This game is an agriculture-related tradition passed down from generation to generation mainly in farming villages.  The ancient Korean farmers practiced divination from the result of this game.  They made Amjul (암줄, “a female rope”) and Sutjul (숫줄, “a male rope”) with straw; it was believed that they would have a great harvest only when a Amjul team took the victory against Sutjul team – just like the goddess of the moon, Amjul, “a female rope,” symbolizes fertility and abundance.

Amjul-Sutjul Juldarigi 
(A Tug of War between the Female and the Male Rope)

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