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Fire and iceSmaller crowd welcomes chilly New Year
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승인 2010.01.19  21:59:50
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▲ Revelers ring in the New Year with fireworks and friendship at Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) at midnight. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City

“Slow and steady wins the race,” Madison Gibson chanted as she climbed to the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) around 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day, 2010. It was Gibson’s first New Year on Jeju, where the native of Lexington, Kentucky, works as an English teacher.

Only a few hours before her ascent of the steep incline to the top of the island’s largest volcanic crater, which rests at 182 meters above sea level, Gibson had been dancing around a bonfire together with approximately 5,000 Jeju Islanders as they brought in the New Year - holding hands, singing and dancing in unison to keep warm and share their joy. Just before sunrise, the oldest and youngest generations slowly but surely made their way to the peak’s top. As Gibson pointed out, a steady pace, somewhat zombie-like in nature, ensured success. Unfortunately, this year, like many before, the sun was hidden behind a canvas of seemingly painted horizontal pale blue, green and orange clouds.

As many as 30,000 people visit each year to partake in the Sunrise Festival, but this year around only 7,000 attended. Organizing committee member Park Jin Woo, who has been involved with the festival since its inception in 1993, said the smaller turnout had been expected due to H1N1 fears and exceptionally cold weather. Park said this was the coldest New Year he could remember.

Park, one of the festival founders, said the impetus for the event came after Jeju hosted an Ironman competition in 1991, and he realized the island was capable of other large organized activities. In the years he has been part of the festival, there have been no accidents.

“Sunrise Peak has one of the most beautiful views on the entire island,” he said. “[But] you can see the sunrise from anywhere; you don’t have to be on the top of the oreum to celebrate. The sunrise is actually in all of our hearts.”

People all over the world celebrate the New Year, Park said. The festival is really a global celebration and Jeju Island just a small part of the collective consciousness. This year, he personally donated 10 million won worth of small flounder fish for festival participants to release into the ocean. Westerners kiss as the year changes from the old to the new, while on Jeju, this year, Koreans released fish. “They then make a wish,” Park said.

“You can see the sunrise every-where in the world, but without the sun and the environment you cannot survive, so it is important to appreciate the environment,” he said.

The festival included lantern-lit night hikes to the top of the oreum, a traditional performance of Haenyo song, and even belly dancing. A total of 2,010 firework effects followed a video presentation of Mount Halla erupting in a recreation of the creation of Sunrise Peak.

▲ Guests at the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise peak) festival enjoy the changing of the year, despite the chilly conditions. Photos by Kim Gyong Ho, courtesy Seogwipo City
A large ring of fire was string lined from the peak to the festival below to light a fire at the stroke of midnight; quickly followed by the ignition of a large teepee-like bonfire nestled in the middle of the festival. The population was predominantly Korean with only a handful of foreigners before the fireworks went off, after which, as the skies lit up, dozens of white faces appeared.

Kiara Smith, from Nanaimo, British Columbia, said her one resolution for the New Year was to play her guitar more often.

Stuart Gibson, from the United Kingdom, said he had been on the island for two years and was excited to finally make it to the festival. His New Year’s resolution was to attend church more often. He hesitated to share the wish he had made when he released his flounder, but later admitted his one and only wish was for his soccer team to win the following weekend.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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