Lunar New Year is one of the most important traditions for many Koreans and Korean-Americans. Seollal is the first day of the lunar calendar, which changes dates every year depending on the lunar cycle. This year, the three-day celebration will begin on Saturday, January 25th, and coincide with Chinese New Year. Seollal shares similarities with several other Asian cultures, including a focus on elder relatives and blessings of good luck, but it also carries unique significance as well.
On Seollal, Koreans throughout the world try to visit other relatives, a practice that makes this holiday the busiest time to travel throughout Korea. Given the country’s size (comparable to Indiana’s) and population (51 million), traveling during this time might be similar to traveling during Thanksgiving, only more intense.
Historically, you are considered one year older on Lunar New Year, and this symbolic celebration means that every Korean child gets a second birthday. Traditional foods are usually eaten during this time, with delicious tteokguk (Soup with rice cakes) central to the concept of the New Year and new age. This rice cake soup is believed to add another year to your life. One of the most important aspects of Korean New Year is getting together with family and exhibiting respect to elders. As evidence of their respect, children and grown-ups often seh bae, a form of bowing similar to kowtow, towards the elders and wish them good fortune for the New Year. In return, the elders, usually the oldest living generations, gift the children with money and share important facts and wisdom about life.
Seollal is a great time to socialize and bond together with relatives who may live far away. Many Koreans play a variety of traditional games while spending time with their loved ones, including top-spinning, jegichagi, and gonggi. At the end of the day, New Year’s fun requires plenty of motor skills.
Though most widely observed in South Korea, Seollal has followed migrants throughout Korea. Each family creates its own customs, while sharing traditions are pretty common worldwide. Speaking with my father, I learned that he frequently celebrated Seollal in South Korea and has very fond memories of gathering with his family members and having a good time. My Grandfather shared that when they first arrived in 1980, Lunar New Year celebrations were infrequent and uncommon, but now many communities have created events to express their Korean culture and celebrate the New Year. As we start the new decade, many will spend some time to celebrate the new year of 2020, and take time to be with family and friends.
10th West Ranch High School