KOREAN CULTURE: The First Full Moon Festival (1)

Daeboreum (대보름), the Great 15th of the First Month of the Lunar Calendar



Daeboreum Night Full Moon Rising (2011)


I’ve been so busy that I didn’t realize until last night that tomorrow (2/6/12) is 
Daeboreum in Korea, so hurriedly I soaked dried herbs,  dried vegetables, and various kinds of beans to make “the” Daeboreum dishes – Ogokbap (오곡밥, “five grain cooked rice”)  and Namul (나물, “cooked herbs and vegetables”).  Daeboreum literally translates to “the Great 15th of the First Month of the Lunar Calendar,” in which 
dae means “big, great” and boreum means “the 15th of the month,” on which the first full moon of the year rises.  Its official name is Jeongweol Daeboreum, in which Jeongweol (정월)1 means the first month of the lunar calendar. Jeongweol is the month that marks a fresh start for most Koreans as January does for many people around the world.   New Year’s resolutions, anticipations, and hopes abound globally in Jeongweoland January. 

According to the Korean Astronomical Almanac, Jeongweol is a month during which Cheon-In-Ji (-- (--), the three orders of Heaven, Man, and Earth become united as one and assist human beings in accomplishing their goals, and all the tribes become friends with one another in accord with Heaven’s will.  In other words, Jeongweol is the most important month of the year for the universal harmony between Man and Heaven, Man and Man, Man and Earth (Nature).

Jeongweol Daeboreum is called Sangweon (상원, 上元), in which sang means “top” and weon“best” or “No. 1.”  It is one of the Taoist Samweon (삼원, 三元), which the dictionary of the Korean language defines as meaning (i) Sangweon (상원(上元), the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar), Jungweon (중원(中元), the 15th of the seventh month of the lunar calendar), and Haweon (하원(下元), the 15th of the tenth month of the lunar calendar); and (ii) Heaven, Earth, and Water in Taoism.  Weon(, ) is a Taoist concept that is known to be the Judgment Day the Jade Emperor (The King of Heaven in Taoism) weighs souls based on their deeds every six months – on Sangweo, Jungweon, and Haweon.  Major Korean national holidays set based on boreum, the 15th of the month when the moon reaches its fullest, are Jeongweol Daeboreumor Sangweon (the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar), Baekjung or Jungwoen (the 15th of the seventh month of the lunar calendar), and Chuseokor Hangawi (the 15th of the eighth month of the lunar calendar).


1.  In Korea, the first month of the lunar calendar is traditionally called Jeongweol (정월, 正月), in which jeong () means “right, legitimate, best, first, and so on.”  The word implies the new year comes around as the first day of the lunar calendar starts, and everything starts all over.  Other names referring to the first month of the lunar calendar are Weonwoel (원월, 元月), or Irweol (일월, 一月). FYI, Koreans call the eleventh month of the lunar calendar Donjiddal (동짓달) and the twelfth Seoddal(섣달).


The first day of the lunar calendar is Seollal.  It is the start of a celebratory period called Seol that continues until the fifteenth, Jeongweol Daeboreum.  Ancient Koreans used to wear seolbim (설빔) - new clothes, new shoes and new accessories for the New Year - until Daeboreum and they often considered it equal to SeollalSeasonal Customs of the Eastern Kingdom (1849) (Dongguk Sesigi), in which the Eastern Kingdom refers to Joseon Dynasty then and Korea now, mentions that the ancient Koreans stayed awake all night on Daeboreum’s Eve into Daeboreumas they did on Lunar New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day.  The tradition of staying awake until the rooster crows – is called Protecting New Year (수세, Suse or 해지킴, Haejikim).  (Click herefor details.)  It was also believed that the first person to see the moon rise would have good luck all year.

Then, why did Daeboreum have such a special meaning for the ancient Koreans?  In the philosophy of Eum-Yang(음양(陰陽), “Ying-Yang”), Eum (or Ying) symbolizes the moon, female, shaded orientation, north or shady side of a hill, south of a river, and passive and negative principle in nature while Yangsymbolizes the sun, male, south or sunny side of a hill, north of a river, and positive and active principle in nature.  As the sun is represented by a Greek/Roman male deity, Apollo, while the moon is by a female deity, Artemis (Greek), or Diana (Roman), in Korean mythology and philosophy, the sun symbolizes God and Heaven while the moon symbolizes Goddess and Earth.

As Artemis or Diana is a goddess of childbirth and fertility, a Korean lunar goddess denotes birth, fertility, creation, and abundance.  The Full Moon, the first full moon of the lunar year more accurately, is the very essence of Daeboreum, and Daeboreum epitomizes birth, fertility, creation, and abundance.  In ancient Korea, agriculture was the sole means of living; accordingly good harvests determined the quality of their lives.  In other words, farmers, the majority of the people of ancient Korea, always hoped for abundant output and a good year, so they earnestly prayed to the goddess of the moon that their hopes and wishes would come true.  And they would be filled with the fullest anticipation waiting for the time the moon would reach its fullest - the ultimate symbol of abundance.  That is why Daeboreum used to be so big in Korea.