Celebrating Seollal in Korea


Photo: Tteokguk, traditional Korean food eaten on Seollal

Seollal (Lunar New Year; first day of the lunar calendar) is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Korea. While many observe Sinjeong (Solar New Year; January 1 of the Gregorian/Western calendar), most Koreans celebrate Seollal, which usually lasts for three days (the day of, the day before, and the day after). This year, Seollal falls on February 16 of the Gregorian calendar.

More than just a holiday to mark the beginning of a new year, Seollal is truly a special occasion for Korean people. Not only is it a time for paying respect to ancestors, but it is also an opportunity to catch up with family members. During Seollal, Koreans usually wear hanbok (traditional clothes), perform ancestral rites, play folk games, eat traditional foods, listen to stories and talk well into the night. Read on to discover how Koreans celebrate Seollal.

Before Seollal | Busy with preparations!


Photo: Charye preparation (left) / People traveling to their hometowns via train (right)

In Korea, the rush to prepare for Seollal begins one week beforehand. Food is prepared in advance and people begin to purchase and package gifts for their parents and relatives. Another crucial part of preparing for Seollal for many people is making travel arrangements to visit their hometowns. There is a mad rush to book buses, trains, or plane tickets before they all sell out. Traveling during the holiday can take over two to four times the normal travel time due to heavy traffic.

Tip. Recommended Seollal Gifts!

Seollal gifts vary each year depending on economic situations and gift trends, but the most popular ones are department store gift cards and cash. Popular gifts for parents include ginseng, honey, health products, and massage chairs. Other common gifts include toiletry gift sets such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc., and gift baskets/sets composed of Spam, tuna, hangwa (traditional sweets and cookies), dried or fresh seafood, hanu (Korean beef), and fruit.

The day of Seollal | Ancestral rites and traditional games!


Photo: Charye ritual (left) / Sebaetdon (New Year’s money) given as a Seollal gift (right)

Celebrations have changed from the past but in general, the morning of Seollal begins with the family members gathering in their seolbim (special clothing for Seollal) for an ancestral rite. The ritual is conducted to express respect and gratitude to one’s ancestors. Following the rite, everyone gathers together and eats the ritual food. The main dish of the day is tteokguk, a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, egg, vegetables, and other ingredients. In Korea, eating tteokguk on New Year’s Day is believed to add a year to one’s age.

After the meal, the younger generations of the family pay respect to their elders by taking a deep bow called sebae. Then, the elders offer their blessings and wishes for a prosperous year. Children often receive sebaetdon(New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift. For the remainder of the day, family members play traditional folk games, eat food, and share stories.

* From this Link: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=941952

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