Jang-Sik Jang
Senior Curator, Children’s Museum, National Folk Museum of Korea

One passageway can have different meanings due to the different mind-set of different persons. Likewise, a change in a viewpoint transforms an ordinary object into something symbolic. The reasoning is the same when a thing nothing more than a ‘movement’ lastly becomes a ‘flower’ and ‘significant’ once it is called by its name.

Anyone can see a full moon any month of the year. However, a difference in the perspective of viewing it can make it appear different. Similarly, every year, people from all over the world can see the first full moon, but ideas concerning it are culturally distinctive and related to the collective philosophy of a community. What Koreans think and intend, making themselves culturally distinctive with strong and obsessive affections toward the first full moon, is represented within a number of folk cultures related to the moon.

The Best among Twenty-Four Divisions of a Year, the Great Boreum

The waxing and waning of the moon is an important indicator for telling of time because these divisible movements visually mark a beginning and end. Under the traditional perception, the lunar cycle sets a month cycle, and the first moon is marked as important, making the full moon of the first month of the year particularly special. It’s implied in the term daeboreum (the great full moon) and sangwon (上元). Daeboreum pairs with hanggawi, and sangwon is compared with the July full moon, jungwon (中元), and the October full moon, hawon(下元).

The biggest celebration for the beginning of a Lunar New Year is Seol Day. However, Seol is based on a kinship-centered timeline, while daeboreum is founded on a community-centered timeline. Based on this fact, ongoing folk customs for daeboreum are closely tied to community rituals. People in the same region have common vocations related to regional characteristics, such as farming or fishing. Their interests and hopes are also similarly shaped. A fruitful harvest and a bountiful catch are hopes not only for an individual but also for the whole community, wishing to overcome the limitations of their mortal lives.

Cultural Diversity Stemming from the Diversity in Expressions of Desires

Rituals are shaped differently in each community, and the same ritual may differ from region to region. However, noting the differences is a way of marking their distinctiveness; it is not a matter of slating any as right or wrong. In terms of folk customs, those involved with daeboreum shows the greatest variety.

During daeboreum, farmers and other community members play musical instruments, and community rituals are performed. Sometimes jangseung (a stone guardian spirit) is hoisted. In dry field farming areas, a daljip (moon house) made from straw is burnt when the full moon is high to predict the year’s harvest, depending on the direction the bonfire falls. In rice farming areas, straw collected from each family house is twisted to make a rope for daeboreum juldarigi (tug-of-war), an event in which the counter-parties may be decided by gender or by residence. There are many variations of juldarigi throughout Korea, and some of the most notable forms such as namusaetssaum (tree iron fighting) in Youngsan and dongchaessaum (dongchae fighting) in Andong have undergone significant development. The same is true for dodangaek julnori in Goyang or gye juldarigi in Jisamcheok. After juldarigi events are completed, the rope is burnt or cut and taken away, or sometimes it is tied around a standing stone or dangsan (a village shrine). The way of handling the rope is as varied as the regional customs involved with juldarigi.

Folk activities suggesting the performance or ban of certain deeds take place at designated moments. Desires are fulfilled by cracking nutshells and having a meal consisting of five grains, and taboos against drinking cold water or sweeping the yard bring good luck and help individuals achieve their desires for the whole year. Daeboreum is indeed a special day, and moderating behaviors is a way to wish for well-being throughout the year.

Symbolic Deeds to Dreams Transcending Reality

Daeboreum folk customs are the result of mental attitudes towards maximizing fertility, as implied by the symbolism of the moon. Desires and dreams transcend reality when they are manifested in the daeboreum folk customs. This is meaningful because, through daeboreum’s artistic diversity and historical context, it has taken on a role as a shaper of mental history.

Focusing on rituals and games, daeboreum folk customs are worth being compared to many other intangible elements that are being safeguarded under the concept of intangible cultural heritage. Folk culture is valuable because of its diversity, which makes things more beautiful. Its natural development over time is more desirable than imposing strict regulations to make each one peculiar. This is the reason for the special emphasis on diversity in daeboreum folk customs.