Typhoons and open-toed shoes. Sweatshirts and shorts. Although it’s technically summer for a few more days, the signs of autumn are appearing. For the first time in weeks, the cool air is swirling around the peninsula already. After the scorcher of a summer we experienced, I can say with confidence that it’s welcomed. As things wind down and people gather together for this year’s Chuseok, there will certainly be fingers and toes still with remnants of orange dye present. The fun of bongseonhwa dye fades into the coming of autumn.
Orange digits aren’t some new fad to blow off. There’s a real history behind this all-natural “accessory.” And for those of us in Korea who interact with young students, it might be mistaken for messing around with markers. In my case, it was a week ago or so when I finally decided to ask one of my students about her orange-tinted digits. At first, she was confused by my question. After asking again, dangling my fingers in front of her to help emphasize the question, her face lit up and she answered, “Flower!” Well… off to Google I’ll have to go.
As I’ve now learned, the excited kid at the computer with me, during the month of August it’s a tradition for many to apply the powder of the garden balsam plant to their fingertips and toes. The tradition has been long thought to keep illness and evil spirits at bay. The plant grows freely around Korea throughout the summer months and was possibly used the way we use modern nail polish at some point. Further digging around the Internet led to a two article that I’ll link below to learn more about the process and a how-to breakdown for next summer.
My student explained that she and her sibling are treated to this summer tradition by their mother and I think that’s cool. Something unique to their culture and something that, hopefully much later in the future, she can remember positive times with her loved ones by whenever she sees the plant.