Friday marks the winter solstice, or dongji in Korean, the shortest day of the year. Koreans traditionally celebrate this day by sharing a steaming bowl of red bean porridge with their family and neighbors.
In the past, the red color of the porridge was thought to dispel evil spirits, so it became a tradition to eat it on the winter solstice when the night is long. The dish is made by slowly boiling the red beans and adding round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour.
On other occasions, red beans were eaten in the form of porridge, cake, and steamed rice. When an epidemic broke out, red beans were placed in wells in the belief that they would clean the water and dispel the disease. When a neighbor lost a family member, red bean porridge was offered to dispel evil spirits from the household in mourning.
One of the customs still observed is handing out red bean cake to coworkers or neighbors when launching a new business or project or moving into a new place.
At the winter solstice, people clear their debts to make a fresh start for the New Year, so why not invite close relatives or friends and spend time together to look back on the passing year?