Winter Holidays, Korean Style!
It’s the holiday season, a time of celebration across the world. Many cultures have different ways of celebrating this time of year; it’s a time to slow down and relax before the beginning of a new year. In Korea as well, there are a number of cultural traditions that take place toward the end of the year.
Ever since Christianity found its way to the East, Christmas has been a holiday celebrated the same way it is in the Western world. There is, however, less focus on the decorations and material portions of the holiday, with more focus placed on the religious undertones. You will still see heavy light decorations and Christmas markets up in Seoul, and many people attend Christmas buffets. The holiday is also often spent with friends rather than family, and is also considered a romantic holiday to be spent with a significant other.
Dongji: the Korean Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice is widely celebrated all around the globe, but did you know that Koreans have their own special celebration? The Winter Solstice is traditionally celebrated as the shortest day of the year and the start of the gradual lengthening of sunlight. In ancient Korea, it was considered a small New Year’s Day, where the king and crown prince would hold a banquet for their subjects. The weather also played a significant role, with unusually warm weather signaling a bad omen that would bring on disease, and cold weather signifying a good harvest in the coming year.
In more modern times, the holiday is celebrated with red bean dishes. The main dish is patjuk 팥죽, or red bean porridge, which traditionally was placed in every part of the house to ward off evil spirits and as an offering to the family shrine for the gods. In addition, rice with red bean and red bean rice cakes are often also served. These days, some choose to take part in a ceremony called Gosa, which is an offering of red bean rice cakes in exchange for good luck and prosperity before beginning an important endeavor.
As the days begin to grow shorter and the cold weather blows in, Koreans begin to prepare for the winter by preparing mass amounts of kimchi to preserve during the cold season. While kimchi can be prepared fresh during the summertime when the seasonal ingredients are available, the same isn’t true in the winter and thus kimchi must be prepared en mass. The process of preparing kimchi has grown into a cultural tradition that isn’t just shared by families to feed themselves through the coming winter, but as an activity to bond with relatives and neighbors. There have even been festivals held for the practice, making it a staple practice at the end of each year.
These are just a few quick summaries of holidays to celebrate in Korea, but if you look into it more, you’ll see a lot of rich cultural practices that you can bring into your own home, too!