The holiday of Dano (단오, 端午) falls on Friday, June 7, this year and corresponds to the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Dano is the smallest of modern Korea’s three most-celebrated traditional holidays, the other two being the Chuseok Mid-Autumn Festival (추석, 秋夕) in September and/or October and Seollal Lunar New Year’s (설날) in January and/or February.
The word “Dano” literally means “the first fifth.” Dan (단, 端) means “first” and o (오, 午) means “five.” Traditionally, the day was believed to be filled with positive yang energy, and in ancient times when people worshipped the sun and the moon, Dano was a day for the sun god.
Dano has always been a day of decorations and to enjoy summer. People would wash and put on new sets of clothes and a whole range of “Dano decorations” (단오장, 端午粧) was available.
At Joseon Dynasty palaces, members of the royal court would present the ruling monarch with a book of Dano poetry (단오첩, 端午帖). The king, in turn, would present them with Dano fans made by artisans that were tributes from the provinces. Households would hold ancestral rites (단오절사, 端午節祀) in which they would place newly picked cherries on the offering table. Families would hold another ceremony (단오고사, 端午告祀) to pray for peace in the family, a rich harvest and prosperity. Women would traditionally wash their hair this day with an aromatic type of iris (창포, 菖蒲) (Acorus calamus var. angustatus). They would also put Angelica polymorpha (궁궁이) flowers in their hair in the belief that the unique aroma would repel evil.
Modern Korea has retained many traditional festivals surrounding Dano, including the Gangneung Danoje Festival (강릉단오제). This event is listed as an official UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO homepage says, “The festival includes a shamanistic ritual on the Daegwallyeong Ridge, which pays tribute to the mountain deity and male and female tutelary deities. It encompasses traditional music and Odokddegi folk songs, the Gwanno mask drama, oral narrative poetry, and various popular pastimes.” Nowadays, the festival includes one of the largest open-air markets in the country.
Photos: National Folk Museum of Korea