Chilseok: The Traditional Korean Valentine’s Day
August 20, 2015 – In a lot of Korean culture and customs we can see strong links to Buddhism, Shamanism and astrology; the traditional festival of Chilseok is one such example. Chilseok is a Korean traditional festival which falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Korean lunar calendar, this year falling on August 20. Traditionally, Chilseok is a time where the summer heat starts to pass away and the monsoon season begins; the rain that falls during this period is called Chilseok water. Behind this cooling of the heat and onset of the rain lies a story from Korean mythology that people still talk about today, a story of two lovers.
On opposite sides of the universe lived Jiknyeo, a young woman who was very good at weaving clothes and Gyeonwu, a young handsome herder of cattle. Jiknyeo was the daughter of the heavenly King and she was so beautiful that she was loved by all of the angels in heaven. One day as Jiknyeo was weaving, she looked out of the window and caught a glimpse of Gyeonwu who was living across the Milky Way. The two soon fell in love and with the blessing of the King they were united to marry and live together. The young couple were so in love that Jiknyeo stopped weaving clothes and no longer would Gyeonwu herd the sheep and cows. This upset the King very much and he decided that they should live apart from each other, separated by the Milky Way.
Only once a year were the couple permitted to meet each other, on the seventh day of the seventh month. On July 7th each year, although Jiknyeo and Gyeonwu were excited to meet each other, they couldn’t cross the Milky Way. The crows and magpies of the universe saw the despair of the young couple and would come together to make a bridge so that they could meet and hug. After spending a short time together, the couple would realize that it would be another year before they could meet again and they would both cry. It is these tears which symbolizes the start of the monsoon season.
Traditionally at Chilseok, Koreans would take baths for good health and eat wheat flour noodles and grilled wheat cake. Chilseok is the last time of the year to eat wheat based foods as after the onset of the cold winds, the wheat loses some of its quality. Although today these traditions are not as strong, the story of Jiknyeo and Gyeonwu remains common knowledge to all Koreans. So next time you see rain on the evening of Chilseok, remember that it is the tears of two young lovers separating with the realization that they have to wait one more year to meet again.