Korean New Year, or ‘Seollal,’ which will fall on January 22 of this year, is one of the most essential traditional national holidays in South Korea. Seollal is a vastly-celebrated holiday that takes place over three days — starting the day before the Lunar New Year and ending the day after.
Koreans living abroad or away from their hometowns often return home to spend time with their families and celebrate the new year together. The holiday typically involves feasting delicious traditional foods, playing games, exchanging gifts, and holding services and rituals for their ancestors.
With this being said, here are some of Korea’s most popular Seollal traditions and festivities!
1. Charye (차례)
Charye is an ancestral custom held during Korean New Year. During this ritual, Koreans pay their respects to their ancestors and pray for their peace and good health.
A table is set with the various dishes favored by the ancestors. During Charye, family members bow and offer prayers to their ancestors, often with adults bowing first, followed by the children in the family.
At the end of the ceremony, family members will share the ritual food and hope for the virtues of their ancestors to be passed onto them. It is believed that they absorb their ancestors’ wisdom and righteousness when they eat the food.
2. Sebae (세배)
Sebae, otherwise known as the new year’s bow, is usually performed by younger family members, who present gifts to their elders and exchange new year’s wishes and blessings for good health and fortune.
The elders give sebaedon (세뱃돈 – new year’s money) to the young family members, which is then put into a traditional coin purse, known as a bokjumeoni (복주머니).
Bowing often signifies respect and greetings, so during Seollal, children line up before the adults and give them a bow to signify greetings for the new year.
In return, the adults give their blessings, known as deokdam (덕담), and allowances to the children.
3. Eating Tteokguk (떡국)
Eating rice cake soup, or tteokguk, on Seollal is a widespread Korean tradition. It has been said that with the consumption of rice cake soup, you add another year to your age and gain luck for the year.
The rice cakes used in the soup are called garaetteok, or 가래떡, and signify prosperity and virtue for the new year.
This traditional dish is typically made of thinly-sliced rice cakes, beef, egg, and vegetables and is eaten with family members on the morning of Seollal.
4. Playing Folk Games
Traditional folk games are often played amongst families on Seollal, as it is a time to remember your ancestors and spend time with family members. Some of the most popular games played on Seollal include:
- Yutnori (윷놀이) – a board game involving throwing four wooden sticks
- Jegichagi (제기차기) – a game involving kicking a badminton shuttlecock-like object, similar to hacky-sack
- Yeonnaligi (연날리기) – kite-flying
In the weeks leading up to Seollal, Koreans are busy shopping for gifts to give their family members and friends to celebrate the new year.
Some of these gifts include; ginseng, fresh fruits, gift baskets (with spam, traditional sweets, and dried fish), and money, often given to children by their elders and parents.
Hanbok is a traditional Korean custom dress worn for holidays and other special occasions. From neutral and simple patterns to vibrant colors and intricate designs, Hanbok is a traditional attire that can accommodate many people’s styles.
In addition to the traditional dress, Hanbok is often worn with a traditional headpiece or pouch bags.
Many Koreans wear this traditional clothing to celebrate Seollal and pay their respects to their ancestors and culture.
Let us know what your favorite Seollal Tradition is in the comments below!
Happy Lunar New Year!
새해 복 많이 받으세요!