It’s time to celebrate and enjoy the festivities as it is Lunar New Year’s Day, or Seollal, in South Korea!
Seollal or the Lunar New Year’s Day (or the first day of the Lunar calendar) is one of the two most celebrated festivals in Korea. Soellal is the time when Koreans return to their families and hometown to pay respect to their ancestors. They spend time with family, perform ancestral rites, play games, and enjoy traditional Korean foods.
This year, in 2021, Seollal falls on February 12th, making it an extended weekend of celebrations.
Seollal isn’t just a New Year celebration but it is also the say when people celebrate another year of growing older. It’s like a giant birthday celebration for the whole country.
Read on ahead to find out how Koreans celebrate Seollal.
In South Korea, people start getting ready for Seollal days ahead. They start buying gifts for family and food preparations begin. And, for those who are not in their hometowns, making travel plans also becomes a priority.
Traveling during the Seollal holidays can be a pain as there’s a mad rush of people rushing back to their hometowns.
Travel Tip: If you do end up making plans to do touristy things during this time, most likely you won’t find many travel options as all of it is booked by locals.
How To Celebrate Seollal?
During Seollal, whole country celebrates for three days – a day before, the day of, and a day after. There are many different ways in which it is celebrated but what remains constant is family.
Travel Tip: During these three days, most of the restaurants and shops will be closed, especially on the official day of Seollal. If you are planning anything at the same time, keep that in mind.
On the day of Seollal, family members gather in their special clothing for Seollal, seolbim, for performing ancestral rite, charye. This ritual expresses respect and gratitude to one’s ancestors. After the rite is completed, family sits together and eats the ritual food.
Traditional Festive Food
As Seollal is a family celebration, it means that it’s a big family feast time. There are all kinds of Korean dishes included in the feast.
The main dish of the traditional foods is tteokguk (떡국). It is a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, egg, beef, and vegetables as main ingredients.
The dish in itself is symbolic of starting out the year with clean mind and body. These are reflected by the clear broth and the white rice cakes in tteokbuk. The soup also represents longevity, new beginnings, and fortune.
Another common Korean dish that you’ll find during the festive celebrations is Jeon (전) or buchimgae (부침개). It is a savory pancake made with vegetables. There are many varieties and many of them are served during the feast.
Other staple dishes of the day include traditional dishes like japchae (잡채), stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables, and galbi-jjim (갈비찜), braised short ribs.
Sujeonggwa (수정과), cinnamon and ginger punch-like drink, and sikhye (식혜), rice drink, are common accompanying beverages with the food.
Gift Giving and Sebae
After eating the traditional Korean foods, the younger generations pay respect to the elders in the family through sebae (세배). The younger generation people a deep bow to grandparents and other older relatives.
Elders offer their blessings and wishes for a prosperous year after sebae. Younger children get sebaetdon (세뱃돈) as Seollal gift.
Fun and Games
After all the traditional activities, it is time for the family to partake in several traditional games.
The most popular and common traditional Korean game is yutnori (윷놀이). You can get it from any supermarket or Korean convenience store. The game is easy to learn and regardless of age, any one can play the game. It involves throwing of four sticks and moving your board markers around depending on the number of upwards-facing sticks. It’s a team game and each team have four board markers. The first team that gets all of their markers around the board wins.
Jegichagi (제기차기), a game similar to playing footbag, paengi (팽이), spinning tops, and flying kites are also common during the holiday.
As it is a traditional celebration, people wear their hanbok (한복) or other traditional clothing attire. Seolbim (설빔) is nothing but a special set of hanbok. Seolbim means New Year clothes so it means that the hanbok is made specifically for Seollal.
New Year Greetings in Korean
As the younger generation performs sebae, they also greet their elders by saying aehae bok mani badeuseyo (새해 복 많이 받으세요). It translates to “many you have a lot of fortune in the new year.” It is also the most common way that people wish each other happy new year in Korean language.
Another Korean greeting that you will hear during Seollal is haengbokan saehae doeseyo (행복한 새해 되세요). It translates to “have a happy new year”.
Recommended Seollal Gifts
Every year, Seollal gifts vary depending on the economic situation and the latest trends. But, the most common Seollal gifts are cash and department store gift cards.
Seollal Lunar New Year’s Day gifts for parents generally include honey, health products, ginseng, toiletry gift sets. Other popular gift sets include items like canned tuna or Spam and cosmetic products.
Lunar New Year 2021 – The Year of The Ox
Every year is represented by one of the twelve zodiac signs, the guardian animal deities collectively known as Sibijisin. Every year, the signs change and the cycle rotates, repeating over a 12-year cycle.
In earlier times, it was believed that Sibijisin had influence over a person’s fate and character.
The year 2021 is the Year of the White Ox, Sinchungnyeon (sin- means white and -chuk means ox). The ox is the second animal deity of the Sibijisin collective. It represents property, carries an image of honesty and hard work.
The fear of pandemic and travel restrictions have forced many people to cancel their plans of traveling to their hometowns. Lunar New Year’s Day, this year, will be different.
Celebrations on Seollal, the Lunar New Year’s Day will be special and unique as people aren’t going home. Celebrations will be virtual. Local restaurants are making ready-to-eat packaged meals so that people can enjoy the holiday festive feast without having to make it when they are alone. They are also providing packaged pre-cooked foods for the ancestral memorial rites ceremony. Even the gift giving is different as people are exploring online shopping options for the Seollal gifts.
Travel Tip: Traveling before Seollal will be difficult but during the holiday, the bustling Korean cities will be relatively quite and peaceful. Many restaurants and shops will be closed but recreational and cultural facilities will be open. You can visit amusement parks, national parks, palaces, etc. as they stay open.
Seollal is a huge festival and holiday in Korea that visitors must try to experience it once at some point. How about you plan your next trip to South Korea and see the wonders and magnificence of Seollal, the Lunar New Year in Korea?
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- New Year Sunrise Festivals in South Korea – Magnificent Way to Welcome the New Year