Wednesday, March 20, 2013

정월대보름 - First Full Moon of the Lunar New Year

February 24th marked 정월대보름 (Jeong-wal Dae Bo-reum), the first full moon of the lunar new year. Koreans celebrate this holiday from the biggest cities to the smallest hamlets. People gather together, usually by a riverside, to tie their wishes for the new year onto an effigy. Writing and tying the wishes happen around five o'clock, before the sun starts to set. As people line up to write out their hopes for the new year, musicians perform, people eat street food and children fly kites. As the sun begins to set, people gather around the effigy, hoping for a good spot to watch as the straw is lit from all sides by people in traditional Korean dress, called hanbok (like a Korean kimono).

Hayoung and I went to the one in Andong. Fortunately, the site of the celebration was just about a 25 minute walk from the apartment. We arrived in time to write our wishes to paper and tie them to the effigy. We then walked around admiring the kites people were flying around the site. They say that the first person to see the first full moon of the lunar new year will have good luck for the reminder of that year.

After the effigy is lit, people light candles inside paper lanters to send off into the sky, again, taking their wishes on the lanters' journey.

The ceremony itself was a sight to behold, a thing of great beauty and destruction, noise and music. Hayoung wanted to be close to the fire while I opted for a nearby hillside for a better angle (I was shooting f/40). As usual, I find myself at a loss for words and find that my pictures may tell a better story than I am able to conjure with description alone. Here are some of my pictures from the event. Click on the pictures for a bigger view. Use the left and right arrow keys to move to the next picture. Press Esc when finished.

The whole ritual felt very pagan. Below is a video I took on my phone (sorry about the poor quality) of traditional music being played next to the pyre as it spat burning debris into the air on the cool, crisp early spring evening.

As a side note, I thought it interesting and worth mentioning, though probably not significant, that the event landed on the Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim is homophonic to the Korean holiday Bo-reum (when pronounced by a Korean). Both Koreans and Jews follow the lunar calendar. If that weren't enough, there is an interest in Judaism here that is hard to figure. For example, I saw the book at right in a book store here in Andong. It literally translates to "Talmud Humor" (as stated at the top of the book). Indeed, after asking Hayoung, she said she was familiar with and had parts of the Talmud though she never brought it up; she said she didn't realize it was a Jewish script. This book is proof that people here have enough of a basic understanding of the Talmud to understand humor around it. Now these are either really interesting conincedences or Koreans just may be one of the lost tribes of Israel. As I have said before, Koreans and Jews share a lot in cultural similarity. These are uneducated musings but significant enough that I thought they were worth mentioning. After all, some scholars believe the Khmer of Cambodia/Vietnam to be one of the lost tribes. In that respect, it doesn't seem so outlandish.