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New Year’s fortune

#Sounds of Korea l 2019-01-02

Sounds of Korea


On the first day of a new year, people in the Joseon era would enjoy Dosoju도소주, a medicinal wine made with herbs that was believed to ward off evil spirits and stimulate cognition. Unlike most cases, younger people took the first sip of Dosoju ahead of their seniors. Young people drank first, because they earned one year, while older people drank later because they lost a year. This practice implied that time means different things to different people. However, it may also include the older generation’s hope that the young make the most of the ample time given to them. 


So, how are you welcoming in the new year of 2019? We at KBS World wish you a year filled with confidence and energy, and on that note we bring you the royal marching music titled Daechwita대취타 performed by the Court Music Orchestra of the National Gugak Center.

Music 1: Daechwita/ Performed by the Court Music Orchestra 


Nearly everyone makes New Year’s resolutions and wishes around this time of the year. Korean mothers in days past would put a bowl of purified water on a clay urn early in the morning and pray for the family’s well-being and health. At the receiving end of the prayer would be the sun, the moon, or even her ancestors. It didn’t matter to whom the prayers were given so long as the family remained healthy and happy. 


However, the Big Dipper constellation was the most commonly prayed to object in the sky. The conspicuousness of the Big Dipper imparted a sense of familiarity and closeness in ancient society, as evidenced by ancient tomb murals depicting the constellation along with the sun and the moon. 

The Big Dipper has an associated myth about seven loving sons who secretly built a stone bridge after seeing their widowed mother wading through the cold river to meet her new love interest. People also believed the Big Dipper had the power to change the weather and could even determine people’s lifespans and fortunes. Here’s a modern adaptation of a song about the Big Dipper titled “Before This Night Is Over” sung by the traditional music ensemble Souljigi.

Music 2: Before This Night Is Over/ Sung by Souljigi


It was important to wish for good fortune at the start of a new year, but it was equally important to prevent bad fortune. In ancient Korean soothsaying practices, there is something called “samjae삼재” or three disasters, which is said to affect every person over a nine-year timeframe. “Daesamjae”, or three great disasters, involve fire, wind, and water, all indicating natural disasters that continue to impact peoples’ lives today. Other disasters included wars, plagues, and famine. 


Centuries ago, wars and civil uprisings were frequent, and there was often less food available than was needed. There was much to fear for those in the old days. What is more worrisome about “samjae” is that misfortune is said to continue for three straight years. One way to prevent this streak of bad luck is to use an amulet with a drawing of a three-headed falcon. People used to put up a drawing of this mythical falcon above the front entrance of their home on the New Year’s Day. If the amulet was not enough to ease their fear, they would call a shaman priestess to host a ritual to chase away the three disasters. These practices may be dismissed as mere superstition, but they served practical purposes, like making people aware of possible misfortunes and thus more likely to be more cautious and take fewer risks. Today’s last piece is “Samjaepuri” sung by Yu Ji-suk.

Music 3: Samjaepuri/ Sung by Yu Ji-suk

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