Korean New Year is the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. It is one of the most significant traditional Korean holidays. The celebration lasts three days: before the New Year, New Year’s day, and the day after the New Year.
More than just a holiday to mark the beginning of a new year, Seollal is truly special 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.
In Korea, the rush to prepare for Seollal begins one week beforehand. Food is prepared in advance and people begin to purchase gifts for their parents and relatives.
Gift Giving: During the week leading up to Seollal, Koreans shop for gifts to give to their family members. People meet family and relatives on the day of Seollal and share their gifts. Gifts include fresh fruits, ginseng, honey, gift baskets (with spam, traditional sweets, dried fish), toiletries and cash.
Charye: The first day of the celebration begins with Charye. Charye is a memorial service that prays for peace and good health to the ancestors. Family members will dress up or wear a Hanbok. Everyone will then gather in front of a table prepared for the ancestral rite. The ritual dishes vary by region, but the common choices are tteokguk (rice-cake soup), rice, meat, seafood, liquor, fruit and vegetable pancake. At the end of the rite, the ritual food, called eumbok, is shared with family members: this passes the hopes and virtues of the ancestors to those who partake.
Sebae and Sebaet-don: 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. In addition, they give children Sebaet-don (New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift. All the Sebaet-don received is then put into a fortune pouch called a bokjumeoni.
“During the Seollal, the most exciting moment is to get Sebaet-don from the elders, but my parents take that money and deposit it in the bank. Every time, I am sad and disappointed. In the past, the elders often [gave] the Sebaet-don by putting it into the bokjumeoni but now, they mostly give it with [a] bag of money,” said Yewon Kim, a sixth grader.
Games: The most common activity is yutnori, a board game that involves throwing four wooden sticks. All family members, regardless of age, can enjoy playing in teams and making fun bets. Also, Jegichagi is played using a jegi, which looks like a badminton shuttlecock. The player kicks a jegi up in the air and tries to prevent it from falling to the ground.
This holiday brings everyone in the family together and it’s guaranteed that many celebrated Seollal by giving thanks to ancestors and sharing gifts with family members.