Ekta Aggarwal, New Delhi
Seollal or Eumnyeok Seollal/음력 설랄 also known as Korean New Year, is South Korea’s most popular and important holiday. It is a traditional festival to celebrate the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. The celebration of Seollal lasts for 3 days; beginning the day before, the New year’s day itself, and concluding the next day. Korean New Year usually falls on the second new moon in January or February. In the case of a lunar leap month, the new year falls on the third new moon. Seollal is a public holiday in South Korea; during this period, several enterprises are closed down and a paid vacation is offered for families to spend time together and visit their relatives.
Seollal is a unique Korean festival based on the lunar cycle which is traditionally influenced by China. Every year is represented by a different animal, and every 12 years the cycle is repeated. The rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig are all twelve animaux that can represent a year. Koreans believe that a baby born in any one of the 12 animals of the Korean zodiac year, that animal grants the baby its attributes and personality traits. That’s why some parents even plan their children’s birth year according to this conviction. The year 2021 is the ox year, which means people born in the year of ox exhibit characteristics of ox such as being strong, powerful, fearless, resilient, and determined; as per the Korean beliefs.
There are different practices and customs during Seollal. In order to visit and greet parents, grandparents, and relatives; many Koreans return to their hometowns and some even travel around the world if they are residing away from family. It is considered essential and polite to return to family annually during these holidays. Koreans perform an ancient ritual called charye on the first day. They honor their ancestors during the ceremony by putting food before the deceased’s images or names.
Often, as they do, Koreans wear traditional costumes called the Hanbok. They bow and offer the popular Korean rice wine to their ancestors. Following the ceremony of the Charye, the Saebae takes place which is the most important of all the rituals of the Korean New Year. Sebae is the act of bending deeply on the ground with lowered head and hands on the ground, where the younger people bow to the elders saying “새해 복 많이 받으세요” or “Saehae bok mani badeuseyo,” which translates to “Please receive a lot of good fortune for the New Year.” The younger ones are rewarded by the elders for this gesture as they receive pocket money when they do this, along with dokdam, or words of wisdom.
Tteokguk is a traditional Korean food many people consume during Seollal. It’s a soup with rice cake. Usually, it is said that you are one year older after eating tteokguk. Jeon, also known as buchimgae is a pancake with savory green onion and other vegetables and is another commonly eaten traditional food during Seollal.
As with conventional games, Yut Nori is a typical holiday game. It is played with specific but basic sticks and rules. Yeon or rectangle kite flying and jegichagi are enjoyable games played with paper wrapped with lightweight objects.
Seollal is South Korea’s most popular holiday. Not only it is celebrated to mark the New Year, but it is also the time for families to get together, to pay respects to the ancestors, and to rejoice! If you want to experience a classical Korean Lunar New Year, the best option is to get welcomed into the house of a Korean family. You can take the invitation on the bid if you’re fortunate enough to get it! However, beware that it’s the busiest time of the year when flying to Korea during the Seollal. A significant proportion of the Korean population is struggling to go home. Some people like to spend the Lunar New Year vacation by visiting the most populated areas such as the fun parks. The palaces of Seoul are indeed an ideal location for this year’s tours. During this typical holiday season, if you visit Korea, you can experience the rich culture and traditions, special programs, and performances.
Watch the video below to know aboiut the customs practiced during Seollal:
What are your preparations for Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year? Comment down and let us know!