Thursday, 7 February 2008

How do Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year?

The Lunar New Year or "Seollal" is one of Korea's favourite holiday. The other major holiday is "Chuseok".

Koreans celebrate two New Year's: one on January 1st according to the solar calendar, and another according to the lunar calendar (what we call Chinese New Year here in Malaysia). Most people go back to their hometowns to perform ceremonial rites and pay their respect to their ancestors.

Before Seollal

Seollal is one of the best holiday seasons for department stores and markets. Most people shop for gifts to give to their parents and friends. Meat, fish, fruit, Korean traditional snack "Hangwa" tteokguk (rice cake soup), and various types of wild vegetables are popular items because they are required as part of the ancestral rights. The food prepared for this rite must have nice shapes and colours, and they must be fresh.

People in Korea will be busy traveling to their hometowns during Seollal - so train tickets must be reserved in advanced.

Seollal Day

On the morning of Seollal, people get up early to wash and put on their 'Seolbim' (new clothes prepared for Seollal). Many people wear Hanboks. Then the families gather to perform ancestral rights, paying their respects by offering them food. After the rites have been performed, everyone shares the holiday food together. According to tradition, eating tteokguk (rice cake soup) on Seollal adds one year to your age. After finishing their meal, the younger generations pay their respects to the elders of the family by bowing to them.

Praying to the ancestors with various kind of traditional food
[Pic credit: Discover Korea]

Children especially like Seollal because they can receive money as a New Year’s gift.

Lately, an increasing number of Christian families are choosing not to perform the ancestral rites due to their religious beliefs. Instead, their family members gather to share food and stories, and spend quality family time during Seollal.

After performing the traditional Seollal activities as one’s husband’s parents’ home, families go to the wife’s parents’ home afterwards.

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kpop_rub said...

I like how people in Korea and Asia are so family oriented... Americans really don't seem to care much for family and their elders. Everytime I watch these American holiday commercials and I see how loathing family is good marketing it blows my mind how people can find that funny or appealing that they would wanna buy a product based on that. And those food alters offered to dead ancestors reminds me so much of "Dia de los Muertos" which is an indigenous Mexican celebration.

Clammy said...

I come from a Christian family background and we still honor our dead during the celebrations and will still have alters on special occasions. We just don't pray to them or anything.

Orchid said...

hi kpop_rub: Yeah Chinese New Year here is also very family oriented.

On New Year's eve...families have their reunion dinner. If you are married, you gotta go back to your husband's side of the family for this reunion dinner. On the first day of New Year's you visit close relatives. Then 2nd day...maybe visit friends etc. A whole lot of visiting and food and exchanging of "ang pows" (red packets containing $). That's the CNY custom here.

We just came back from visiting our relatives.

penny said...

i LOVE Chinese/Vietnamese New Year..not because of the red envelops but because we get to spend time with families..i love being asian and i wouldn't trade it for the best wishes to everyone on this new year..

Orchid said...

@penny - are you Vietnamese?
Hmm..i love Vietnamese food - the dry vermicelli with sour sauce and deep fried spring rolls. * yummy * Do you all eat that a lot during New Year? Or is it the very famous pho (beef noodle).

Anonymous said...

sorry don't want to be rude.
i know you are learning korean.
ddeokguk is not just rice cakes it is a soup made with the rice cakes
떡~ddeok~rice cake 국~soup

it is so yummy to eat on the cold
new year.

새해복 많이 받았아요~*^^*

i love your blog

Orchid said...

hi anonymous: thanks for the correction. changed to "rice cake soup". =) thank you!

새해복 많이 받았아요!!

ladida said...

the practice of placing sliced open fruits before the family alter intrigues me. I remember the 1st time I saw this kind of presentation while watching 'A Love to Kill', i thought to myself, "strange, but hey, very cool"
Just out of curiosity & fun's sake, does anyone adhere to NY's day superstitions? Do u practice them cuz you're a believer in superstitions? or do u follow them (like me) cuz it's family tradition & some are quite entertaining?
On NY day, my family members are not allowed to 1)sweep the floor = you risk sweeping away your luck/fortune for the new year & 2)shower/wash hair = same reason as #1 (I don't follow this tradit. for hygenic reasons).
3) Opt for a haircut days before NY = I don't follow this one either but I think a new haircut symbolizes a new you, a new beginning?
4)Be happy. Mahjong, poker, anybody? Go ahead, dare to gamble a little. = can be used as a prediction tool to see if luck is with you for the upcoming year

Orchid said...

Hey Ladida, those are the similar superstitions we practice here in Msia. =)

As for me:

1) I don't mind sweeping the floor of my house on NY's day cos we are Christians and are not bound by the superstitions. But i will not sweep the floor in someone else's home if they follow it - out of respect.

2) How to not wash hair on New Year's day when you want to look good? Must wash and style properly on NYs Day!!!

3) yes most of the time i will feel like cutting my hair before NY's - cos want to look good. :-P

4) When we were young, we used to gamble during CNY. It was a good way to pass time when all the relatives are home. We played blackjack a lot and parents let us kids use matchsticks to bet instead of money. We do not use it as a prediction tool though.

Orchid said...

Ladida...over here, people also wear bright colours during New year...especially red, yellow, pink & orange. Do you do that too?

blinkable said...

My mom is very traditional one so yea everything has to be newly buy (luckily this does not incl under garments). No sweeping. No dark colors clothing. No hanging clothes out to dry on the eve and 1st day. Lotsa preps for the prayers. Burn lotsa offerings.

I look at the pics here and smiled coz seems like Asians are same everywhere. You can be from another Asian country and yet we basicaly share the same culture one way or another ;)

ladida said...

About the no sweeping part -- i remember when i was younger, i accidentally shattered a cup & glass bits flew everywhere. I secretly & hurriedly swept the area w/o my mom's knowledge. Few yrs later, I told my mom what happened. She said it's OK as long as i said a few blessing words while in the act of sweeping. "shrugged shoulders" oh well.
Bright color outfits is ideal on CNY. But I'm not superstitious; so I have worn smthg black (black dresses/skirt/pants) on this day many times before.

Orchid said...

ladida...are you of Korean or Chinese descent?

ladida said...

Orchid, we're fifth cousins four times removed. ;P Correct me if i'm wrong, but you speak Hokkien, right? I speak Teochew.
"diojiu, hokgiang. Gaginang ma!" Well...ok, almost. :)

Orchid said...

Ladida, ah yes i understood that!! hehehe

Anonymous said...

not seolNal but seollal???

Joe said...

Well, if you write the Korean word in Roman alphabets, it is Seolnal, Seollal is the way it is actually pronounced. We have a rule for that case. When L and N meets it gets merged as L when pronounced.


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