Spring Traditions in Korea

Written by Erikka Durdle


Spring 봄 (bom) is the season of emergence and renewal. For many cultures around the world, shaking off that collective sleepiness of Winter is cause for celebration. As a new mom, and half-Korean American, I wanted to look for ways I could integrate South Korean Springtime traditions into my own seasonal festivities, to make my son’s “Koreanness” an important part of his experience in my home. Spring in Korea is a time of many festivals, bringing people together to observe the lighting of lanterns on the streets of Seoul, to drink cups of locally harvested green tea, or even to fill baskets full of freshly picked strawberries. Here’s how I’m weaving my Korean heritage into my family’s new Springtime traditions.


1. Tulips - Korea boasts numerous flower and tree festivals–everything from the Cherry Blossom, to Azaleas, to the Sansuyu, and more. The entire country is in bloom. One of Korea’s most stunning floral displays can be found at the Taean World Tulip Festival. Held in Taen’s Tulip Park, it’s the largest flower festival in Korea. The tulips are arranged in all kinds of creative patterns, painting the park in stunning garden-sized designs. Tulips, native to Central Asia and Turkey (not the Netherlands!), can be found in my local grocery store year round. So, to kick-off our Spring festivities, I simply bought a bouquet of brightly colored tulips and displayed them in the center of our living room. They remind me of the tulips in Korea, and are a gorgeous signifier of the season.


2. Strawberries - Fresh strawberries in Springtime is a seasonal favorite here in America, and as it turns out, in Korea, too. The Nonsan Strawberry Festival, one of Korea’s highest rated festivals, attracts strawberry lovers from all over to sample the fruit of Nonsan’s fields–freshly picked or baked into a rice cake. An hour northwest of where I live, there is a farm aptly named, “The Strawberry Farm,” open for strawberry picking until April. My family is headed there this weekend, with the hopes of filling our bellies and baskets with enough berries to make all kinds of strawberry goodies. The first recipe I’m going to try is the Korean Vegan’s take on Strawberry Mochi, a popular, Japanese style rice cake. Her recipe calls for dried strawberries; I plan on oven drying my fresh ones. If you’re a more adventurous cook than I am, you can try making this strawberry mochi recipe by My Korean Kitchen. Along with the yummy glutinous exterior, these mochi cakes have the traditional sweet red bean paste in them, with both layers wrapped around a fresh strawberry.


3. Green Tea - Close to the top of my Korea bucket list is the Boseong Green Tea Festival. Boseong Tea Plantation is the largest producer of tea in Korea, and the origin of its tea industry. Imagine a place where you can pick your own tea leaves, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, and even soak your feet in a pool of green tea! This is what my Springtime dreams are made of.


A Green Tea ceremony is the perfect way to celebrate and honor the coming of Spring. Together with family and a few close friends, we’ll follow the steps of a traditional Korean tea ceremony. (My local Asian mart carries loose-leaf green tea from Korea, but The Republic of Tea has a nice organic one you can order online.) The tulips will make a lovely centerpiece for the ceremony, and the delicate flavor of the strawberry rice cakes will compliment the full-bodied flavor of the tea. But there is one more important component to a Korean Springtime celebration that would make my new tradition complete: lotus lanterns.


4. Lanterns - The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul, Korea is a fun Springtime festival celebrating Buddah’s birthday. There’s a glorious night time parade with lit-up lanterns of all shapes and sizes, and an exhibit of traditional lanterns as well. There are also opportunities to try Buddhist temple food, craft your own paper lantern, and even try a bit of meditation.


Although I am not Buddhist, Buddhism is such an important part of Korea’s culture and history, so I want to make it a part of my Korean tradition, too. After the green tea ceremony, my guests and I will continue our celebration by making our own lotus lanterns while listening to a special Springtime K-pop playlist (there really is a spotify playlist for everything!). Then, after a short meditation, we’ll light the lanterns and wish Buddah a very happy birthday.


5. Cake - The final piece of my new Spring tradition is this Korean Cream cake by Irene Yoo. I’m a big believer in the necessity of cake on any occasion, but especially when celebrating birthdays and the end of cold, dark winters. Topped with–you guessed it– fresh strawberries, it’s the perfect way to conclude a day celebrating the new season while honoring my Korean heritage.


I hope this new tradition will help both my son and I feel more connected to my mother’s land–and give this season a fresh, fun way to welcome it.


 

Erikka is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University’s Mountainview MFA and was the recipient of the program’s Safford Book Prize for best Fiction thesis and the Lynn Safford Memorial Prize. She's working on a novel about a Korean mother and her biracial American daughter, exploring themes of culture, history, music, surfing, and motherhood. She has words in Assignment Magazine. When she's not reading or writing, you might find her catching some waves or dreaming about them in savasana.


Recent Posts

See All