Saturday, January 2, 2010

At Bosingak for the New Year's!

The new year's celebrations at Bosingak, a massive bell pavilion on Chongno Street in downtown Seoul, is the Korean equivalent to the New York Times Square Falling of the Ball. Both locations hold raucous celebrations to close the old year and herald in the new.

In Seoul, typical for the celebrations is the closing of wide Chongno Street which becomes wildly packed with excited spectators crowding together to beat off the cold but who also get pushed tighter and tighter together as more people come to squeeze in for celebrating the solar mark of time. [The solar calendar has replaced much of the lunar calendar; however, the farming community still relies heavily on the lunar calendar for its more exactness in when to prepare the soil, plant the crops and harvest the produce. The two most traditional holidays, 추석 Korean Thanksgiving and 설날 Lunar New Years, are based on the lunar calendar while other Korean holidays are dependent on historical factors for when they are commemorated. And then, recently, more offices and stores are closing on the two western holidays, Christmas and (Solar) New Years although neither is an official red-letter day.]

The countdown is on! Spectators strain to see the huge pavilion, and to facilitate viewing the ceremony 2 massive LCD displays with rolling time countdown counters are set up in front of Bonsingak. The clock countdown is interspersed with video flashes of the wild crowds pressing in, and as the midnight hour approaches, across the LCD panels flashes scenes of dignitaries dressed in Chosun court robes standing before the great bell in preparation to release the huge log that will strike the bell and mark the beginning of a new year. This bell, which used to be rung according to the watches, to daily signal the timely opening and closing of the great city gates, and as an alarm (examples - invasion and fire) to the people, is now only rung once a year, a precious moment made into a grand event: the entry into another (solar) year.

With the approach of midnight an ever-increasing eruption of rocket fireworks pepper the sky. Spectators wave cell phones in the air. As the counters tumble to 00:00:00, the simultaneous eruption of crowd delirium and the deep tonal *B*O*N*G* of the mighty bell are matched by a sky-shattering burst of fireworks. This year, the once-in-a-blue-moon moon glows just above the sky scrapers and out of the reach of the crescendo of firework rockets and blossoms. The new year of the tiger has begun!

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