▲ Jeju Fire Festival at Saebyeol Oreum, Jeju City. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
Jeongwol Daeboreum is one of the most important festival days in the Korean year, falling on Jan 15 in the lunar calendar.
The festival name means “Great Full Moon Day” and it is the day of the first full moon of the lunar year, and it falls on Feb 22 in this year’s solar calendar.
Coming at the height of winter, the first full moon, a symbol of light and hope, was an extremely meaningful event for people still in tune with the natural cycles.
It was a day on which to celebrate the coming spring, and also renew communal ties through celebrations and games.
Koreans celebrate this day in various ways, and Jeju people have their own special traditions, too.
Mainlanders, for example, call out their own names in the morning just before sunrise. If someone answers you are supposed to reply, “Buy my warmth.”
The belief is that by selling our warmth, we can garner luck for the year ahead. To be most effective, the warmth sold must equal one’s age.
People also eat rice mixed with five grains and share the food with three households to bring good luck. Nuts are also eaten, with the bureom nut favored as it is believed to protect from boils.
A tradition that is familiar to most Koreans is kite-flying. Just don’t pick up any kites you see lying around — you will also pick up the owner’s bad luck!
As the words are homonyms in Korean, legs and bridges also have some superstitions attached to them at Jeongwol Daeboreum. For good luck for the year ahead, step on a bridge for every year of your age.
Jeju is also rich in traditions not found elsewhere.
Jeju people visit fortune-tellers year-round, but the new year reading is always most important.
If the reading was bad, people used to make a scarecrow-like effigy which would then be beaten and burnt to cast out the bad luck. This custom was called dochaebi bangswi, or effigy beating.
“Jwibulnori” is the mainland tradition of burning rice paddies to cast out demons, and also more mundane insects. On Jeju this relates to the tradition of “banggae.”
Traditionally, Jeju needed to richen the soils of the volcanic cones by regularly burning the pastures in the mid-mountain regions. The new sprouts post-burning were always the greenest and most nourishing.
At Jeongwol Daeboreum this tradition is known as “deulbulnohgi,” or releasing the wildfire.
This is still honored today in the burning of Saebyeol Oreum, Aewol-eup, in the Jeju Fire Festival.
Until 2013, it was called the Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival but to attract more tourists it was permanently moved to the first week of March.
Jeju people seem to like nothing more than burning stuff, as they also partake in the “burning the moon house” (daljiptaeugi) tradition.
This involves building a makeshift straw house, burning it down, and then divining one’s fortune based on the direction in which it falls.
If you can’t spend Jeongwol Daeboreum with some locals to experience these traditions firsthand, then get to the Jeju Fire Festival which starts on March 3 in Jeju City. The actual lighting of the volcanic cone at Saebyeol Oreum will be on Saturday evening, March 5!
Good luck for the year ahead is not guaranteed, but a few good laughs are almost certain.
▲ Photos by Douglas MacDonald
19th Jeju Fire Festival 2016
‘Spreading the Fire of Hope Around the World’
Thursday, March 3, to Sunday, March 6 (four days)
Saebyeol Oreum, Bongseong-ri, Aewol-eup, Jeju City (on the Pyeonghwa-ro)
Public transport is highly recommended and expect delays due to heavy traffic.
Buses: From Jeju City: 750-1, 750-3 (60mins) / From Seogwipo City: 78, 78-1, 78-2 to Castlex Golf Club -> Change to 750-1, 750-2, 750-3, 750-4 (60mins)
Shuttle buses: Shuttles will run from Jeju and Seogwipo cities. Schedules are yet to be announced.
Car: Saebyeol Oreum is on the Pyeonghwa-ro, 25km southwest of Jeju City and 32km northwest of Seogwipo City.
Day One (Thursday, March 3) The Day the Fire of Hope Rises
Charging Hope, culture and arts performances/SamSamSam Concerts (people and hope, concerts to foster love, hope and happiness)
* Performances on Day One will be in the Jeju City hall area.
Day Two (Friday, March 4) The Day the Fire of Hope Grows
Prayers of hope, thatched roof making, making the daljip (moon house), traditional music ensemble, grand marching, opening night, torch march, burning the moon house
Day Three (Saturday, March 5) The Day the Fire of Hope Spreads
Horse show, tug of war, fringe stage, World Cultural Exchange special performances, fire lighting, torch march, wish making, and more.
Day Four (Sunday, March 6) The Day the Fire of Hope is Shared
Saplings of new spring and new hope, Jeju Food Festival, traditional games, horse show, music festival, youth festival, and more.
Contact Jeju City Hall, Jeju City Tourism and Festival Council 064-728-2751 - 2756
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