Korean Full Moon Festival: 정월대보름

Full Moon Photo by Moyan Brenn
Wow…March has a lot of foodie holidays. March 3rd was the unofficial holiday of Pork Belly because pork belly has 3 layers of fat and March is the 3rd month of the year. On the 14th, you have white day coming up..so guys should be ready to take their ladies out for a celebration.

This year it is also the first full moon of the new year or what we call Jeongwol Deborum So…Happy Jeongwol Deborum Everyone! Yay! It’s the first full moon of the lunar calendar on March 5th and it is definitely worth celebrating. So how do you celebrate? I’m going to get to that but first, let me tell you a little about why this holiday is so important. 

Korea in the past was mainly an agricultural society and it depended on a good harvest to survive. If there was a drought or pestilence like bugs, many people might not live to survive the new year. Plus, in the past, the average person did not have access to pharmacies and health care so good health was truly a blessing. Korea, in the past, mainly went by the lunar calendar because it better marked the seasons and times for harvests. The first full moon was a giant beacon of hope. It signified the beginning of the end of the long winter and the arrival of Spring.

So, obviously, this was a day of optimism and celebration but also full of superstitions. During the day, a game that children would play on the chilly day was to visit friends call out to their friends. If their friends answered, they would say "Ne towa sawa” which means, “Buy my heat.” Little kids were selling a raincheck on the heat from the forthcoming summer months to their friends now, since when it is hot, it would be worthless then.
Nuts for 정월대보름 picture by 정암사

To celebrate, people would clean the house and prepare special snacks and a meal. The most important snacks were hardshell nuts such as peanuts, chestnuts and walnuts. On the first full moon, each person would get the number of nuts according to their age. Then, they would crack the nuts using their teeth. The sound would keep away bad spirits, the nuts would provide essential nutrients, and the use of the teeth, they believed, would strengthen the teeth for the coming year.
Ogokbap Picture by RDA 
Ogokbap Picture by 정직한농부

It was also important to have ogukbap or 5-grain rice. This would be mix of rice, millet, sorghum, beans and barley. It was important that this nutritious rice was to be taken and shared with 3 different families for luck. They would eat the rice with rehydrated vegetables from the previous years harvest and yaksik cookies. For drink, people would have guibalgi-sul or "clear-hearing" alcohol. This special alcohol was the clear alcohol from making rice beer and they said that it would help people hear clearly.
정월대보름 Picture by Busan.go.kr
At night time, the villages would continue the celebration with a large bonfires to burn rice straw and other wastes from the previous year. This would kill any eggs of pestilence and the burned wood would then create fertile soil for the new year. Plus, it’s really cool to dance and have a party around a big fire under a full moon.

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