North Korean authorities cast as 'evil spirits' in new twist on old custom

Seol Song Ah  |  2017-12-27 11:43
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This years Winter Solstice arrived on December 22, a frosty event marking the longest night of the year. The day is typically associated with a chilly winter, and also serves as a rough indicator that the New Year is close. In North Korea, residents have been adapting traditional holiday customs around this time of year to better reflect modern circumstances, with some casting the authorities as evil spirits, and wishing them away in the New Year. 

For the past few decades, the whole neighborhood has been eating Winter Solstice porridge on this day, a South Pyongan source told Daily NK during a telephone conversation on December 22. People believe that the atmosphere improves when there is ample food available, so even poorer residents prepare for many days leading up to the solstice. 

Starting from about a week ago, people have been busy purchasing the required ingredients in the streets and at the entrance to the markets. They include various kinds of beans and millet dough. Being able to buy the ready-made ingredients together makes it easy for city folk to prepare the solstice porridge, the source continued. 

In North Korea, solstice porridge isnt a simple dish; its seen as an edible amulet used to ward off evil spirits. By eating the red bean porridge, some residents believe they can chase away nefarious ghosts, rid the house of disease, and remove barriers to successful market trading in the New Year. The custom is a traditional one, but has taken on a slightly different meaning in modern times.      

These days, when residents say nefarious ghosts, its usually a veiled reference to North Koreas government agencies. The residents hope to be free of encumbrances so that they can sell more in the markets and earn a living. Through excessive taxation and oppressive crackdowns, the government agencies have become infamous for their revenue collection policies that make it harder for the residents to eke out a living. 

All of the merchants who have been forced to pay inordinate bribes to the authorities over the past year are eating the solstice porridge and hoping for better fortune in the New Year, a source in North Pyongan Province explained.

Everywhere you go, you can see residents offering one another the red bean porridge and wishing each other a fortuitous New Year. They joke that if you eat the same amount of beans as your age, you will make a lot of money. 

Because they are traditionally believed to chase away ghosts, red beans sell well in the markets during the run-up to the solstice holiday. Shipments are smuggled in bulk from China prior to the solstice every year. At 7,000 KPW per kilogram, they are nearly twice as expensive as other types of beans - which sell for around 4,000 KPW per kilo.  

Ready-to-eat bowls of red bean porridge selling for about 1,000 KPW can be bought at train stations, street corners, and in the markets. Extra beans on top can be ordered for an extra 1,000 KPW. Merchants selling the porridge advertise their dishes to passersby, loudly bellowing the common market call, Eat some hot porridge before you go on your way!
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