Dano, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, is called Nopeun nal (High Day) or Surit nal (Day of Gods). The Dano Festival of Gangneung is one of the festivals with the longest history in the country. On that day, people held a sacrificial rite to mountain gods in Daegwallyeong Pass and prayed for good harvest and peace of the village.
There are some records left by ancestors about the relevant rites. Chugangnaenghwa, a collection of writings of Nam Hyo-on (1454-1492), contains a statement about a sacrificial rite held for mountain gods and a three-day rite held in March through May. Seongsobubugo, a collection of writings of Heo Gyun (1569-1618), tells a story about witnessing a scene from the Dano Festival of Gangneung in 1603.
Villagers believed that their village would suffer a calamity unless they held a sacrificial rite on Dano. Thus, they brought a guardian deity from the shrine of tutelary gods in Daegwallyeong Pass. They placed it along with the female guardian of Gangneung on top of an altar and held a sacrificial rite. They are said to have believed the leading tutelary god in Daegwallyeong to be General Kim Yu-sin, the guardian placed on the top of their altar to be Monk Beomil, and the female guardian to be a maid from the local Jeong family.
Locals make liquor to be served during the festival, on the eve of which they hold a sacrificial rite at the shrine in Daegwallyeong. They take a holy tree and a deity and keep them at the female deity shrine in Hongje-dong. After holding a rite of welcoming the deities in the evening, they take the deities to an altar set up at a riverside place close to Namdaecheon Stream. During the festival, people hold sacrificial rites twice a day for five days at the altar, praying for the peace and prosperity of the village.
During the festival, special events such as the following are held: mask stage play, tree swinging, ssireum (Korean wrestling), farmers’ music contest, washing the hair in water mixed with changpo (iris; Acorus calamus), eating rice cake made with surichwi (Synurus deltoids), etc.
On the day after Dano, the holy tree is burned, and the tutelary god is taken back to Daegwallyeong. This marks the close of the Dano Festival.
The Dano Festival of Gangneung is composed of a Confucianism-style rite held by officiants and a gut performed by exorcists. It is a village festival that is larger in scale than any other held in areas along the East Coast, attracting a large crowd and creating an atmosphere similar to that of an open-air market. The mask stage play, wherein actors act as those from a noble family and slaves, is a pantomime entertaining the audience.
The festival displays the spirit of locals collaborating with each other. In November 2005, it was designated as UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in recognition of its cultural originality and outstanding artistic quality.