Photo: Gwanno Mask Play
Korea's annual Dano holiday (단오), falling on May 5th of the lunar calendar each year, is one of the three most-celebrated holidays in the nation; the other two being Seollal (Lunar New Year's Day) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day). It was originally established as a day for people to share traditional food together in order to stay healthy and fit for the summer. It was also a time to hold rituals to pray for a year of abundant harvest.
The Gangneung Danoje Festival, held in Gangwon-do, was the most well-known commemorative event found during the past, and its traditional games and activities have been passed down from generation to generation. Thanks to the cultural uniqueness and remarkable artistic qualities of Gangneung Danoje, the festival was acknowledged by UNESCO and proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The festive mood of the Gangneung Danoje Festival can be felt throughout the whole city. Visitors will be able to experience traditional performances for free and experience a variety of other time-honored cultural events.
Photo: Dano Lanterns Display
The events at the Gangneung Danoje Festival are mainly divided into cultural events, folk games, experiential learning events, celebratory events, citizen participation events, and concerts and performances.
** The cultural events begin with the offering of alcohol to the gods (Sinju Bitgi) on April 5th on the lunar calendar, but the main events of the Gangneung Danoje Festival start with the Yeongsinje (the spirit-welcoming ceremony) and the Sintongdaegil traditional parade on June 7th. At that point, the Daegwallyeong memorial tablets and the sacred tree are placed in a shrine for a memorial service. After the rituals are complete, a procession accompanied by folk music winds its way to an altar prepared at Namdaecheon Stream. After the parade, the people proceed to Namdaecheon for the gut (shaman's rite) and a mask drama play.
Photo: Female shamans performing danogut
Danogut is performed by Gangneung's most well-known female shaman, who prays for the health and happiness of all the people at the festival. There are many different versions to this performance, with about 20 variations both minor and major. However, the basic form of speaking to spirits, dancing and chanting are found in each version.
Photo: Korea's traditional Gwanno mask play
Performed only at the Gangneung Danoje Festival, the Gwanno Mask Drama is a non-verbal traditional Korean mask drama where the lower class servants (nobi) wore masks of the upper class nobles (yangban). The drama is about the love of an upper class nobleman and the forces that interfere with his love.
Photo: Ssireum battling scene
Ssireum is a traditional Korean wrestling for men. The wrestlers grab on to each other's satba (a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and legs) and the match begins. The wrestler who gets the other on the ground first wins the game. Both group and individual ssireum tournaments are held during the Danoje Festival. The group tournament is played by teams composed of Gangneung citizens while the individual tournament is open to all festival visitors.
Photo: Ladies swinging on the geune
Geune is a traditional Korean swing where girls stand on the swing board and sway to the momentum. The swinging contest is one of the most popular folk games enjoyed by women during the Danoje Festival. A swing is hung on a tree and whoever can swing the highest is declared the winner of the competition.
Photo: Drawing on a Dano Fan (left) / Washing hair with sweet flag-infused water (right)
Other Dano customs can be experienced at the festival venue. Visitors can take part in such hands-on programs as making surichwi-tteok (rice cakes made with a type of marsh plant) and sampling sinju liquor (liquor made a month before Dano to offer to the gods). In addition, washing your hair with sweet flag-infused water, Dano fan-decorating programs and other hands-on activities are available at the festival venue.
Photo: Sintongdae-gil traditional parade (left) / International visitors at the event (right)
The Sintongdaegil traditional parade marks the beginning of Dano and is the most popular citizen participation event during the festival. After the folk play, the memorial tablet is carried to the altar at the festival venue. Over 5,000 Dano lanterns illuminate the parade path, and a huge number of citizens carrying lanterns follow the Sintongdaegil traditional parade, creating a festive mood. The citizens make rice offerings to the gods, and then use the collected rice to make alcohol and tteok (떡, rice cakes) for everyone to try. It is said that those who eat the rice cakes and drink the alcohol used in the sacrificial rites will remain healthy for the rest of the year.
Photo and information courtesy of Gangneung Danoje Festival Promotion Committee
*This column was last updated on May 2016, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official website before visiting.
<Last updated on May 18, 2016>