Gyeongchip (경칩, 驚蟄) is the Day of Awakening From Hibernation and falls on Wednesday, March 6, this year. It marks the beginning of the third of 24 solar terms of the year, and is the last day of the first lunar month of the year. As all living things in the northern hemisphere begin to emerge from their winter slumber, the continental anticyclone wind patterns (clockwise in the northern hemisphere) begin to weaken. The Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, the Nipponese Isles and elsewhere in Northeast Asia are hit by low pressure troughs, causing an alternation between both cold and warm weather, but temperatures nonetheless continue to creep ever upward.
The Yi royal family of Joseon (1392-1905) would hold traditional farming rites on its private farmland on the First Pig Day after Gyeongchip, setting an example for the commoners. The king would also sometimes issue bans on burning the fields in order to protect early grasses and insect eggs. Royal proclamations were, let’s say, the internet of their time, bearing news and happenings from the capital all the way down to the smallest of local hamlets.
One custom associated with Gyeongchip was hunting for frog or salamander eggs in the rice paddies, ponds and ditches. It was believed that eating those eggs would keep one healthy throughout the year.
Gyeongchip was also considered a day on which all work associated with dirt could be done successfully. Thus, people frequently repaired the walls in their mud-plastered houses or built mud walls, even if there was no real need to do so, as this repair work was believed to eliminate insects from the house. In homes that were infested with bedbugs, say, a bowl of water mixed with wood ash was placed in each of the four corners of the room.
Also on Gyeongchip, people tried to predict the success of the farming seasons in the year ahead by looking at how well the barley had germinated by this day.
They drunk sap from the trunks of maple trees, as this was believed to have healing benefits for stomach and gastric disorders. Also it tasted good. Maple sap had to be collected on a clear day because, according to popular belief, cloudy or windy weather would spoil the positive energy on this day. After Gyeongchip, the amount of sap available in the maple trees falls sharply and the sap was thought to lose its healing qualities.
So… happy Gyeongchip to you all! The weather is beginning to get nicer, though fine particulate matter is still a burden nowadays, so get out there and enjoy some nature~
Much of the above folklore was blatantly stolen from the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture (http://folkency.nfm.go.kr/en/main), which has a lot of obscure information about such bucolic Joseon traditions.