This year Dongji falls on December 22nd in the solar calendar. It is the day with the shortest daytime hours and longest night hours. The word “Dong-Ji(冬至)” is made of Chinese characters that mean “the peak of the winter”. Some Koreans eat red bean soup, pray for their ancestors and visit a buddhist temple to pray for their health and good luck.
In traditional societies people used to call Dongji “little new years” and was considered a festive day that follows new years. Old proverbs such as “You must pass Dongji to grow one year older” or “You must eat red bean porridge to grow one year older” are derived from this custom.
The red bean porridge is called Pat-juk (팥죽) and contains Saealsim (새알심) meaning bird egg, a ball made from glutinous rice flour, named such due to its resemblance to small bird’s eggs, possibly quail eggs. It is eaten to drive away evil spirits. According to Korean traditional folk beliefs, the color “red” is a symbolic color of positive energy which can defeat negative energy. Cooking and eating patjuk is a ritual to prevent bad luck, epidemic disease from evil spirits.Before eating the dish, Korean people used to serve it their own house shrine, they scattered it all around the house like in the kitchen, storage house, gate, yard and so on.
My teacher today told me about it during lunch as we sat down to eat our Pat-juk. She remembers her mother spreading the red bean porridge on the doorways.