It doesn't get more epic than "The Festival of the Opening of Heaven."
by James Bbang
Happy Gaecheonjeol, or National Foundation Day! Today, we celebrate the mythical god Dangun Wanggeom (단군 왕검) and his founding of ancient Korea in 2333 B.C. Most Koreans take this national holiday to catch up on some rest or spend time with their friends and family. It's another national holiday in the autumn for Koreans to enjoy, as it follows closely behind Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving. But if you'd really like to immerse yourself in Korean history and tradition, here's what you should know for the next time you're in town for Gaecheonjeol!
The Legend of Dangun Wanggeom
Gaecheon translates to "opening of heaven," which refers to the myth of the founding of Korea. Once upon a time, a god named Hwanin (환인), or "Lord of Heaven," had a son named Hwanung (환웅). Hwanung wished to live on Earth among its mountains and valleys, and he asked his father for permission to descend from heaven with 3,000 followers. Hwanung received permission to do so, and he descended upon Baekdu Mountain (an actual mountain on the border of China and North Korea) with his entourage. There, he founded Sinsi, the "City of God," where he and his followers taught humans about arts, laws, and morals. While that was going on, a bear and tiger prayed to the gods that they would become human and join the fun. Hwanung heard their prayers, and he approached them with a proposition: For 100 days, survive off eating only 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, and stay out of the sun.
The tiger gave up after 20 days, but the bear stuck through it, and after the final day, the bear was transformed into a woman -- Ungnyeo (웅녀), literally "bear woman." She was grateful, but still wished for a husband and a child. Hwanung fulfilled that wish too -- he took her as his wife, and together they had a son named Dangun Wanggeom. Dangun took over the throne after his father, and he built the city of Asadal, the first city of Gojoseon (ancient Korea).
Koreans now celebrate this story on October 3 with parades, fireworks, and plenty of food, of course. The next time you're in Korea, here's how you can join in the fun! Eat Some Legendary Food
Japchae is a staple of Korean celebrations. You can't go wrong with this dish! The invention of beef bone broth soup, seollongtang, is sometimes associated with historical celebrations of Gaecheonjeol. According to legend, a 15th century king invented the soup to feed a large group of people who had gathered to celebrate. Join the street parades and performances in Seoul The Sejong Centre for Performing Arts holds public performances showcasing traditional Korean music, dance, and Taekwondo. Be sure to anticipate the crowds -- all schools, government offices, and banks are closed! You can also watch the parades of smiling Danguns! He always seems so happy. Witness Traditional Ceremonies At various sacred sites across Korea, people pray for national prosperity and wealth. Mt. Taebak, pictured above, is considered one of the most sacred locations. Happy 4349th Birthday, Korea!