The first of January has come to pass, but that doesn’t mean New Year is over. In fact, a lot of countries in Asia that follow the Lunar calendar have another New Year celebration coming up.
In South Korea, the start of the Korean New Year is called Seollal (설날). Like Chinese New Year, it occurs sometime in January or February depending on the lunar calendar.
During Seollal, the whole country celebrates for three days: the day before, the day of, and the day after the holiday. It’s one of the biggest holidays in South Korea, and there are so many ways it is celebrated by the people.
Seollal is one of the most important Korean holidays and it’s usually spent with family. During this period, many travel to their hometowns to visit their parents and grandparents. Gifts are brought home to be given to relatives and offerings are made to family ancestors. Children are also required to pay respects to their elders through sebae (세배). This is done by deeply bowing to grandparents and other older relatives. In turn, elders give children sebaetdon (세뱃돈), new year money presented in colorful silk bags.
New Year Greetings
When performing sebae, children would also greet elders by saying saehae bok mani badeuseyo (새해 복 많이 받으세요). Its literal translation is “may you have a lot of fortune in the new year.” But it’s also the most common way people greet each other happy new year in Korean. Another greeting that can be heard during Seollal is haengbokan saehae doeseyo (행복한 새해 되세요) which translates to “have a happy new year.” As seollal is celebrated, it’s a good idea to know these phrases to greet friends and family around Korea.
The importance of Seollal means it’s also a time for people to wear their hanbok (한복) or traditional Korean clothing. Hanbok is usually worn during very important events. Children wear it on their first birthday, and it’s also seen during festivals and events like weddings. As Seollal is celebrated, a special set of hanbok called seolbim (설빔) is worn. Seolbim means New Year clothes which are a new set of hanbok bought or made specifically for Seollal. But these days, people could wear their best hanbok set instead of getting new ones for the holiday.
Since Seollal is celebrated with family, that means it’s also a time for big family feasts. There are all kinds of Korean dishes served during Seollal, but the most important one is tteokguk (떡국), a rice cake soup. The soup represents a lot of things: longevity, fortune, and new beginnings. It also symbolizes a celebration of age in Korea, as Seollal is when people celebrate another year of growing older. Seollal isn’t just a New Year celebration but also a giant birthday celebration for the whole country.
Jeon (전) or buchimgae (부침개) is another dish commonly found on the table during Seollal. It’s a savory pancake made with vegetables and many varieties are served up during the feast. Other traditional dishes like japchae (잡채), stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables, and galbi-jjim (갈비찜), braised short ribs, are also staple Seollal dishes.
Served with food during Seollal are drinks like sujeonggwa (수정과) and sikhye (식혜). Sujeonggwa is a punch-like drink made from cinnamon and ginger while sikhye is made from rice. These are often consumed as desserts after the Seollal meal due to their sweetness.
Fun and Games
During the days of Seollal celebrations, families take part in several traditional games. The most well-known Seollal is the board game yutnori (윷놀이). Materials for the game can be purchased at supermarkets, and it can be seen being played throughout the country during the Korean New Year. Children would also play jegichagi (제기차기), a game where they keep kicking a ball or pouch into the air similar to playing footbag. Spinning tops or paengi (팽이) and kite flying is also a common game during the holiday
Seollal is such a huge holiday in Korea, and travellers who love should consider experiencing it at some point. How about planning your next trip to Korea to see the wonders of the Korean New Year? Book some of KKday’s South Korea packages to get the most out of your Seollal holiday getaway.
*Featured image from Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines