Seollal - Lunar New Year

by M.L. Lee, 21/01/2020

This coming weekend is lunar new year (seollal/설날). As you can appreciate, Koreans prefer that the holiday be referred to by its Korean name (seollal/설날) or Lunar New Year and not Chinese New Year.

The actual New Year’s Day is a statutory holiday as are the day before and the day after* – this was to allow people to travel to their hometowns for the traditional rites honouring the family’s ancestors. Many of the time-honoured rituals are gradually disappearing or being modified in modern Korea. However, many people still practice most, if not all, of them and government/cultural organisations offer opportunities to Korean families as well as foreign residents/visitors to participate in many of them.
*Note that this year's holiday will go from Friday through Monday, because Seollal falls on a weekend.

No one wants to come empty-handed to visit family and friends so people shop for gifts such as meat, fish, fruit as well as Korean traditional snacks, tteokguk (rice cake soup), and various types of wild vegetables that are a required part of the ancestral rites. Department store gift certificates and cash are also populal. The older generation likes to receive ginseng, honey, and other health / massage products. Daily necessities gift sets such as shampoo, soap, and toothpaste and food gift sets of ham, tuna, Spam, Korea’s traditional snack ‘Hangwa’, dried fish or fruit baskets are commonly given as well.

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It is customary to wear new clothing on New Year’s Day, usually the traditional hanbok.

The day before Seollal, family members gather together to prepare the dishes required for the ancestral rites dishes, which must not only taste good but also to look perfect. Seollal’s most important dish is tteokguk (rice cake soup. According to tradition, eating ddeokguk on Seollal adds one year to one’s age. So, if someone asks you how much ‘rice cake soup’ you had on Seollal, they are really asking your age. Because the slices of ddeok (rice cake) resemble coins, they symbolize wealth while the long rice cake role from which the slices are cut is symbolic of long life.

After finishing their meal, the younger generations pay their respects to the elders of the family (grandparents, older family members, parents) by bowing (Keun Jeol) to them. The elders, in turn, offer their young relatives their best wishes for the year (for example. ‘have healthy year’ or ‘meet someone nice’) along with a gift of ‘New Year’s money’ (usually new bills placed in an envelope).

Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo (새해 복 많이 받으세요)!
Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

For more details on Seollal traditions (foods, games, etc.) click here

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