Seshi, as days of festivity,
act as a stimulus in life and accelerate the rhythm of the yearly life cycle so
as to help one move on to the next cycle.
Seshi customs are based on
the lunar calendar. The sun was not believed to show any seasonal
characteristics; the moon, on the other hand, was believed to show these
seasonal characteristics well through its wane and unity with the passage of
time. As as result, it was easy to observe and appropriately evaluate the
seasonal changes based on its changes. The expression "seshi
customs" refers to ceremonial acts that are customarily repeated during the
During the First Moon, New Year's
Day - the biggest holiday of the year - and the 15th day were celebrated.
On New Year's Day, Koreans enshrine their ancestral tablet and hold a ch'arye.
A ch'arye is the holding of an ancestor-memorial service on festive days,
with food and wine offered in sacrifice to the ancestral tablet.
Ordinarily ancestor memorial
services were held for ancestors up to four generations back; for ancestors
further back than the fourth generation, ancestor memorial services were held
only once a year at their graves. Songmyo is a visit to the
ancestral graves to bow and inform them of the new year. Songmyo
was a custom that was equal to doing sebae for living people; it was an
absolutely necessary act of etiquette for descendants. Upon finishing songmyo,
sebae (a formal bow of respect to one's elders) was performed. Sebae
is a younger person's bowing to an older person as the first greeting at the new
year. Sebae is done by kneeling down and bowing politely.
The 15th day of the Eighth Moon is Ch'usok,
Thanksgiving Day. Along with New Year's Day, Ch'usok (also called Harvest
Moon Festival) is the biggest holiday in Korea. With freshly harvested
grains and fruits, ancestor memorial services were performed, and visits to
one's ancestors' graves were made. One of the dishes prepared for this day
that cannot go unmentioned is songp'yon. Inside songp'yon
freshly harvested sesame, beans, red beans, chestnuts or Chinese dates are
and customs are linked to the passage of the four seasons. They reinforce
the link between nature and humanity, and bring communities together in a sense
of shared purpose. Traditionally
the Korean people followed a lunar calendar which conformed closely to the
seasons. The four seasons, distinct in Korea, formed the basis of everyday
life in traditional society.
For thousands of years, Koreans have
reckoned time according to the lunar calendar. Contrary to
common belief, the lunar calendar has always been adjusted
to correspond to the solar year by intercalation or by
adding a whole lunar month, to the lunar year twice every
five years. This can be demonstrated by the fact that the
solar calendar is divided into 24 equal portions (or called ch>ol)
of which the equinoxes and solstices are used as fixed
points. Even before the solar calendar was introduced to
Asia, the lunar calendar recognized these chol or
seasonal nodes, as they are important dates for agricultural
communities. Give or take one or two days, these nodes fall
more or less on the same day by the solar calendar; this,
however, is not the case with the lunar calendar. The most
important chol are of course the equinoxes and
solstices, but ipch'un (the advent of spring) is
given more weight than others because it is the first node
of the year and marks the approach of spring. Several
special holidays are reckoned by the lunar calendar even
The first day of the first month, New
Year's Day, or Sol, is one of the biggest holidays of
the year. On this day, people traditionally dress their
best, take off from work and gather with family to observe
the ancestral ceremonies. A feast is spread and the younger
members of the family make New Year's pledge of obedience to
their elders. These youths then go around the neighborhood
to offer New Year's greetings to their older relatives and
Another important date by the lunar
calendar is Ch'usok, or the Harvest Moon Festival,
which falls on the 15th day of the Eighth Moon, usually in
September or October by the solar calendar. As this date
marks the harvest time, and is celebrated as
enthusiastically as New Year's Day.
There are a few other important days in
the lunar year. The 15th day of the First Moon is regarded
as important since it is the first full moon of the year.
People crack various kinds of nuts and set off firecrackers
to exorcise harmful spirits, insects and animals. In the
evening, a variety of traditional games are played under the
moonlight. Tug of war, stone fights and mock fights with
torches are a few examples of the games held between
neighboring villages. These are staged by youths and
middle-aged men before hundreds of spectators who come from
far and near. These games are played to win, and tradition
has it that the winning village will be blessed with bumper
Sometime during the First or Second Moon
is a day called hanshik. This is the 105th day after
the winter solstice, falling about the fifth of April by the
solar calendar. On this day, ancestor rites are performed
early in the morning when the whole family visits the tombs
of their ancestors to pay respects. This usually includes
tidying up the tombs.
The fifth day of the Fifth Moon is called tano,
which is another big holiday. According to ancient records,
people on this day rested from work, dressed up in their
best, and feasted just as they would on New Year's Day.
Special events usually planned for the day include wrestling
matches for men in which the champion receives a bull as a
prize. Likewise, women participate in swinging competitions;
the winner of this event goes home with a gold ring.
The 10th Moon is the month for kimjang.
During this month kimchi or pickled vegetables, must
be prepared for the upcoming three months of winter. Every
household was therefore busy preparing this important work.
A popular greeting during these time of year was "Have
you finished kimjang?"
The 12th Moon, called sottal, is a
time when people traditionally got their affairs in proper
order, including the settling of debts, to prepare for the
new year. An honorable man is not supposed to carry his
debts over to the next year. Ancient records tell us that in
the old days, the court held exorcising ceremonies, called narye,
to expel evil spirits. In rural areas, a musical performance
of nong-ak or farmers' music is also used to expel
evil spirits and usher in good fortune.
Another important event is Buddha's
Birthday, which falls on the eighth day of the Fourth Moon
of the lunar calendar, or April or May in the solar
calendar. Buddha's Birthday has recently been designated a
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