Throughout East Asia, the ushering of the new year is commemorated in myriad different ways. For instance, in Japan, the new year is celebrated on the first of January as per the Gregorian calendar. Meanwhile, the Chinese celebrate the occasion based on when the lunar calendar begins – usually between January and February. In Korea, however, the new year is celebrated on both days.
These celebrations are usually referred to as Seollal (설날). The one that occurs on the first day of the Lunar calendar year is a holiday that stretches three days in Korea. Koreans use it as an opportunity to reunite with family and perform certain ceremonies to honour their ancestors.
How is it celebrated?
While Christmas is typically a time for getting together with friends or going on dates in Korea, Seollal is more of a family-oriented festival. During this time, many Koreans visit their families and celebrate togetherness. Roads will be highly congested at this time of year as a result. Additionally, train, bus, and airplane tickets will either be impossible to purchase or excessively expensive.
An example of a unique Seollal tradition would be Sebae (세배). It is the practice of bending deeply toward the earth while kneeling down and placing your hands on the floor. The younger generation does this for their elders to show respect and wish them a pleasant new year. When performing Sebae, people will have to wear a traditional hanbok to denote the appropriate level of deference.
After they receive the bow, the elderly will say something to the effect of “I hope you get married this year” or “I hope you remain healthy this year.” Elders frequently give money, also known as sebaetdon (세뱃돈), to the youth as a reward. This cash is frequently distributed in an envelope.
Another significant custom is charye (차례), which refers to the practice of honouring one’s ancestors during the Lunar New Year. As a tribute to one’s ancestors, food is placed on a table with the family’s ancestral tablets hidden beneath it. On these tables, people offer their forefathers deep bows as a sign of respect. Although many Koreans still practice this custom, it is less common than the other Seollal customs.
Tteokguk (떡국), or rice cake soup, is the main dish consumed during the Korean Lunar New Year. Rice cake slices, or tteok as they are known in Korean, are used to make this soup. Tteokguk frequently includes other ingredients like seaweed and some meat.
In Korea, eating tteokguk during New Year’s marks the beginning of a new year. The tteok (떡) is white, which is thought to represent purity and was historically exclusively consumed on Korean New Year. Today, though, you can find them all year round in eateries.
Jeon (전) is another popular dish served during the Lunar New Year. It is a food that resembles a pancake and frequently includes pa or green spring onions. Kimchijeon (김치전) and haemul pajeon (해물파전), which incorporate kimchi and seafood, respectively, are the two most popular forms of jeon. Jeon is also known as buchimgae (부침개) on occasion.
Families frequently prepare a variety of other appetizers and side dishes to serve at Lunar New Year alongside tteokguk and jeon.
While the existence and practice of Seollal may well have changed over the past century, Koreans have effectively preserved these customs between the two holidays. Seollal is an easily shared extension of Korean culture and its most vital facets: food, tradition, and family. It may be enjoyed over three days in the heart of Seoul with an extended family or on the Western January 1 with friends. Either way, it’s a hugely important part of ushering in a new beginning.
Remember that Seollal is the busiest season of the year in Korea when planning your visit. The majority of people are attempting to return to their hometowns. Be sure to plan meticulously beforehand! If you are hoping to visit South Korea during this special occasion, why not brush up on your Korean first? Sejong offers premiere Korean language courses taught by experienced native speakers. Contact us today to learn more!