What is a Korean custom on the first day of spring? ip-chun dae-gil 입춘대길

ipchun daegilTraditionally, on the first day of spring of the Lunar calendar, Korean households put up messages of good luck on their front doors.

But it’s a rare sight these days since so many people live in apartments (and people don’t really practice calligraphy much any more). But I was reminded about this custom by my calligraphy teacher. (I’ve started studying Korean calligraphy again with a private teacher this time – see my posts on studying at Seoul Art Centre).

Calligraphy was once a necessary skill and not just a hobby or art form. And in the old days there were lots of occasions throughout the year where good calligraphy skills came in handy.

lunarFor example before Lunar New Year my teacher suggested that I work with a small brush to practise writing letters in hangeul to express New Year greetings. (left) Then this week she told me that Saturday (Feb 4rd) is the first day of spring (I’m still hopeless at following the lunar calendar). So she suggested that I write an ip-chun-cheop (a spring message for good luck). So to write this I worked with a larger brush and practised Chinese characters.

Ip chun dae gil 입춘대길 (立春大吉) means something like ‘great happiness in the coming spring’.

I think people who live in hanok houses are more likely to keep up with this tradition (and we can see it in dramas of course :) (here’s a picture and article in the Joonang daily newspaper) The message looks beautiful on an old hankok house door. It’s painted on paper and can eventually be taken down or left to disintegrate over time until another message is put over it the following year. My calligraphy teacher laments that people don’t follow traditions so much any more.

There are different styles of calligraphy and this was my first attempt at writing in an old style called cheon seo.

ipchun daegil

Here’s a beautiful modern interpretation of ipchun daegil

The only photograph I have of this spring message in ‘real life’ is this picture which I took back in 2011. But I think it’s the saddest door I’ve ever seen. The sign for good luck is on a house which is going to be demolished – hence all the red spray.


It was a mountain house we often passed when we went for a walk near where we used to live (and it was the location for the drama What Happened in Bali) but all the houses up on that mountain have now been knocked down to make way for new apartments.

ipchun dae gil

Sigh. Anyway, there are 24 solar terms in the lunar calendar,  6 for each season. So here are the 6 terms for spring. They centre around weather since this was important to the agricultural community. And there were lots of superstitions about bad luck coming if the weather was not as is should be on these specific days. Some of this information was taken from Naver

 ip-chun 입춘
Feb 4 立春 = 立(ip – start)春 (chun– spring)
This is in the first month of the lunar calendar. And families traditionally put up the spring messages of good luck for the coming year. Various rituals were carried out by farmers hoping for a good harvest. People also tidy up their homes before this day to start the spring afresh. Although spring is technically here, it’s still cold and so still time to eat patjuk the sweet winter adzuki bean dish.

u-su 우수
Feb 19 (15 days after ip chun) 雨水= 雨(u– rain) 水 (su – water)
It was said that this is the time that the ice in the River Taedong melts and begins to flow hence the meaning of the Chinese characters.

gyeong-chip 경칩
around March 6 驚蟄 = 驚 (gyeong – startle) 蟄 (chip – hide)
The first day of the 2nd month of the lunar calendar. This is the time that the insects come out of hibernation.

chun-bun 춘분
around March 20 春分 = 春(chun – spring) 分 (bun – division)
Spring Equinox in the middle of the 2nd lunar month. The time when days and nights are the same length. It can still be chilly but getting warmer so maybe a good time to use the Korean idiom cold envies flowers.

cheong myeong 청명
around April 5 淸明 = 淸 (cheong – sunny) 明 (myeong – clear)
Temperatures reach over 10 degrees C and the flowers begin to bloom. The name cheong myeong refers to the weather being clear and bright.

gok-u 곡우
around April 20 穀雨 = 穀 (gok – crop) 雨 (u – rain)
Middle of the 3rd lunar month. At this time the spring rains come and the crops do well. So this is the time that farm work really begins. A saying goes that if there is no rain on gok-u, farming in that coming year will be disastrous.




One thought on “What is a Korean custom on the first day of spring? ip-chun dae-gil 입춘대길

  • February 3, 2017 at 3:34 am

    As always, I enjoyed this post and learning more about Korean culture.

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