Mid-December is the time for Dongji, or the winter solstice in Korea. It’s usually on 21 December, which has the shortest daylight hours of the year, and marks the beginning of longer days. It also has the nickname ‘little new year.’
Celebrating Dongji dates back to Ancient Korea, when most people were involved in agriculture and observed the seasonal weather closely. In those days, people believed that if the weather was unusually warm on Dongji, many people would die in the coming year of infectious diseases, but if it was a very cold, snowy day, the coming year’s harvest would be good.
Red bean porridge, or patjuk, is traditionally eaten with families on this day, and anyone who eats patjuk ages one more year, regardless of when their birthday is. Any other food or snacks made with red beans are also popular, because the red colour of the beans was thought to contain yang energy, which would drive away evil. Ancient Koreans would place bowls of patjuk around the house and farm during this festival.
Another popular custom is to give a calendar as a gift. This dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, when kings would distribute calendars to their government officials. Only the king had the power to distribute calendars so to receive one was a great honour (and useful for farmers!).