New Year: The First Sunrise in Jeju South Korea

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At the grassy base of this UNESCO-designated mountain [2007] jutting out to sea, Seongsan Ilchulbong, an annual overnight New Year’s Eve festival takes place. People enjoy the party and performances throughout the night, and climb to the crater at the top in time to see the sun emerge above the watery horizon, the first sunrise of the new year.

Seongsan Ilchulbong, beloved by Jeju people, figures into their mythology as the site at which Seolmundae Halmang, creator goddess and a Great Mother archetype, placed her giant oil lamp upon an equally towering stone lampstand (a structure adjacent to the main path upward). Thus, going to Seongsan in search of light bears deeper significance than one might think at first glance.

Seongsan Ilchulbong, often referred to in English as “Sunrise Peak” (though this is not a literal translation), is a parasitic or secondary volcanic cone, one which rose from the molten lava during the various eruptions of Mt. Halla, the central volcano.   Seongsan Ilchulbong is specifically a 179m high tuff cone, unique among Jeju’s nearly 400 volcanic cones (called ‘oreum’ in Jeju dialect), with multiple (“99″) points around the crater that give the appearance of a crown.

Festivals on other well-known Jeju peaks have recently developed in celebration of the year’s first sunrise, and climbing Mt. Halla on the first day of the year is a ritual for many Jeju people.