Number 12 of our 28 reasons why being an expat is awesome was learning about and celebrating new holidays, traditions and festivals. So far we’ve experienced the famous Andong Mask Dance Festival, Chuseok and Hangeul Day, a local Ice Festival and the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, and they’ve all been seriously enjoyable, eye-opening experiences into Korean culture.
Last month we were lucky enough to take part in a much smaller, but equally lovely tradition undertaken each year by Oli’s co-workers.
Every March teachers and staff from Oli’s boys high school conduct a good luck ceremony on the top of a mountain, complete with copious amounts of makgoeli and pork.
Let us walk you through how Oli’s co-workers wish for luck for the coming year, a tradition kept alive for over 15 years.
First things first, a mountain must be picked and this years’ selection was 전체사진, Near the city of Gumi. It’s not too far from Uiseong so we were soon staring into the face of a dragon from whose temple position we began our hike.
It’s not a tall mountain, as many aren’t in Korea, but it is incredibly steep. Most of the way the climb is pretty technical, climbing natural steps of stone and mud and scrambling up large smooth rocks. It was a fun hike though and it was cute watching one teacher flying his 6 year old daughter over the steep parts up ahead.
The views were, as always, of those misty layered hills that we will never tire of. The newly planted crops between the peaks, and bright, warm sunshine, were some of the first signs that spring had arrived.
The mountain had once been a fortress, and I’m sure a pretty good one , what with it’s sheer cliff face on one side. We made the peak by ascending a steep metal staircase clutching the rock and tiptoed cautiously out onto the bare stone to take in the views.
After the burst of physical activity it was time to get down to business. Bags upon bags of food began appearing from Mary Poppins like backpacks and mats were laid on the ground in time for the kowtowing to begin.
Korean words were spoken, a song was sung, Makgoeli was poured on the earth. Jostling for space on the mat, the whole group performed two deep bows, touching our heads to the earth, wishing for luck for the new school year.
Next, the personal wishes were made. Each person, or couple, stepped forwards offered some money, knelt and took a cup of makkoeli, twirled it over another cup of burning incense and placed it on the alter, next to the mounds of fruit and meat. They then performed another two deep bows, nodded their heads one final time and hoped that they’re prayers and wishes were answered.
Oli and I were encouraged to step forward too and it was amazing how special it felt, despite having known nothing of the ceremony moments before.
Although I’m sure we won’t begin kneeling in the dirt and putting our foreheads in it too often in the future, we have made a vow to hike a mountain each march, in the hopes of having another year filled with so much luck.
It’s a nice tradition, don’t you think? Do you have any special, personal traditions that you partake in each year? Tell us about them in the comments below!