First Full Moon Festival




Yesterday, February 24th, was the first full moon of this year’s Lunar calendar, also known as 대보름(Daeboleum/Daeboreum) in South Korea. 대보름 is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar new year.

Some Korean families have rituals or activities during this day. In some places like Jeju Island orGangwon Province, a great bonfire is held and various folk games are played. In the olden days, people would play a traditional game called 쥐불놀이 (geuybulnori/jwibulnoli) on the night before the festival. They set ablaze the dry grass on furrows between rice fields, as children spinned cans with holes in them, through which charcoal fire burned. The main purpose of these rituals was to fertilize the fields and to get rid of insects and worms that damage crops.

In the morning, people ate 오곡밥 (ogokbap) for breakfast. 오곡밥 is steamed rice mixed and cooked with five kinds of grains such as barley, millet, soybeans, red beans and black beans. Farmers would share the rice with their neighbors. They believed that if they share it with at least three families, they would receive good fortune and good harvest throughout the year.


They ate the rice with different kinds of dried herbs and nuts like chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts and peanuts as symbol of prosperity and good health. The nuts are cracked with their teeth. People believed that by doing this, their teeth will be stronger for the whole year. (Ouch! Have you tried cracking a walnut with your teeth?) Nowadays, Korean people don’t really follow this 대보름 ritual of cracking nuts with their teeth. (After all, going to the dentist to have your tooth/teeth fixed could get quite pricey these days.)

On Saturday night, Omonim, my mother in-law, cooked 오곡밥. We ate it for dinner, along with 시금치무침 (sigeumchi muchim: sauteed spinach) and dried seaweeds which I was asked to prepare. There were also other side dishes that we often serve for dinner like kimchi and grilled fish, as well as kimchisoup, which is one of my specialties.


My parents-in-law brought home dried peanuts and walnuts, too. I was full, so I skipped the part when all the members of the family would sit together, crack nuts and eat them. Besides, my husband who happens to be my official nut cracker was not home yet, and I can’t crack walnuts with my bare hands, just like what the rest of the family does.


Next year, if possible, I would like to try climbing a mountain (or a rooftop/tree) on 대보름 to watch the rising of the first full moon of the year. They say that the first person to see the full moon will have good luck all year. I don’t believe in luck, but I think it will be so romantic watching the first full moon with your special someone, as you cuddle up on a cold winter night.


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