Last Monday was Dongji동지, the winter solstice, the day with the longest night of the year. It also means that daytime will grow longer thereafter. In the ancient times, Dongji was considered as the start of a new year, because it signifies the resurrection of the sun. One Dongji custom for ordinary people involved eating red bean porridge, because the red-colored food was believed to chase away evil spirits. Dongji, which usually falls on December 22nd or 23rd, has been the subject of many poems and songs. One poem written by the famous Joseon-era gisaeng Hwang Jin-i황진이 is set to a tune and still sung to this day.
I will slice away a piece of the long night of Dongji
And put it away under the blanket of spring breeze.
I will spread it open on the night my love comes over.
The poem was set to the melody of “Isudaeyeop이수대엽,” the slowest piece among traditional lyric songs. Here’s Ji Min-ah to sing “The Dongji Moon.”
Music 1: The Dongji Moon/ Sung by Ji Min-ah
This Friday is Christmas, the day when Jesus was supposedly born. It is believed that Christmas had something to do with the winter solstice. Since there are no accurate records of Jesus’s birth, some claim that an ancient celebration of the sun’s resurrection following the winter solstice coincided with the image of the resurrected Jesus, thereby turning that day into the birthday of Jesus. But frankly, it isn’t important to know exactly when Jesus was born. The meaning of Christmas is to remember and contemplate his teachings. Coming up next is an aria from “Yesujeon예수전,” a creative pansori piece about the life of Jesus. This pansori piece was written by the famed traditional singer Park Dong-jin박동진 in the 1970s. Reverend Cho Hyang-rok조향록 came to him with a script about Jesus and asked him to write songs for it. At the time Park was an atheist but he took up the proposal just out of his aspiration for TV appearance. Deeply moved by the teachings of Jesus while reading the script and writing a pansori piece for it, Park naturally converted to the Christian faith. Here’s Park Dong-jin singing a pansori aria about the birth of Christ in a stable with drum accompaniment by Joo Bong-shin.
Music 2: Aria from pansori Yesujeon (The Story of Jesus)/ Sung by Park Dong-jin, drum by Joo Bong-shin
Korea accepted Catholicism, also known as “western learning,” as an academic discipline rather than a religion. Catholicism was first introduced to Korea in the 17th century and Protestantism in the late 19th century. But interestingly, a Christian cross and a statue of Virgin Mary were excavated from a tomb of the Unified Silla Dynasty which had existed between the late 7th century and early 10th century. How did the Christian relics get into a Silla-era tomb nearly a thousand years before the Christian faith was brought into the country? One theory involves the Tang Dynasty. Christianity was introduced to China’s Tang Dynasty around the 7th century and welcomes by then-emperor Taizong to begin the religion’s centuries-long expansion in China. The western religion enjoyed a status and respect rivalling those of Buddhism. Christianity in China is believed to have spread to the neighboring Unified Silla Kingdom. It turns out that the history of Christianity on the Korean Peninsula is actually longer than we previously thought. The whole country used to be in a festive mood around this time of the year, but Christmas is expected to be celebrated in a more restrained manner with a special emphasis on the day’s religious meaning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole year appears to have been dominated by the grief and hardships caused by the disease, which is all the more reason why we need to solemnly wrap up the eventful year and welcome in a more hopeful new year. Let’s pray for a better year in 2021 with gayageum virtuoso Jung Gil-sun performing “Winter Wonderland.”
Music 3: Winter Wonderland/ Gayageum by Jung Gil-sun