How Do Koreans Celebrate Seollal (Lunar New Year)?
Do you know what Koreans do for Lunar New Year? What do they eat? What traditions are there?
Seollal (설날) is the first day of the first month according to the lunar calendar of Korea. Lunar New Year is celebrated in many cultures across Asia and usually is celebrated between late winter and early spring.
Seollal is a very important celebration and holiday for Koreans, so today, we'll show you what Koreans do during Seollal!
Going Back Home
Seollal Day is a time for family members who may be living in different areas because of work to return to their hometowns. In general, Koreans return to their family homes during the two major holidays, Chuseok and Seollal, to see their loved ones. The expressways are so heavy with traffic that it's jokingly called "the great migration"!
During the Seollal holiday, KTX train tickets are very hard to buy! Korean people book discounted tickets on the Korail homepage days, even weeks in advance. If anyone's thinking of going to the station and getting a ticket, think again! Tickets sell out in a flash and it's a fierce battle! Some people even sleep outside Seoul Station to get tickets.
People who aren't able to buy train tickets can choose to return to their family homes by bus, but bus tickets during the holiday are also hard to buy. If you want to buy a ticket on the day of your trip, you may have to wait about 2 to 3 hours at the passenger hall. Although the traffic in the bus lane isn't as bad as in the regular car lanes, it still takes longer than usual.
You have to take into account the traffic during the holiday. If it usually takes you 3 to 4 hours to get somewhere, it may take 7 to 8 hours during Seollal! But at the end of the day, everyone still makes sure to visit their hometown.
During Seollal, many Koreans practice ancestral rites called jesa (제사) during the day.
To prepare for the jesa(제사), everyone in the family is busy preparing food the day before Seollal. The supermarkets and markets are full of people buying fruits, vegetables, meats, and other ingredients to make Seollal foods! There are many different traditional foods prepared for Seollal and there needs to be enough to feed all of the family members, so it's a tedious and laborious task for Korean housewives.
Traditionally, roles are divided in the Korean household. Women tend to do the cooking and cleaning and men bring home the money. Because of these old-fashioned ways, women are often seen doing most of the work during Seollal, whereas the men catch up with their families. But it's 2023, and we don't stand for misogyny. During recent years, the men have stepped up and started to help the women around with preparing Seollal foods and with cleaning up.
Eat Seollal Food
Like any other country in the world, holidays follow with an abundance of great food. There are typical foods that are enjoyed during Seollal. The most common Seollal food is Tteokguk, which is a rice cake soup that consists of a rich bone broth. Other foods include Galbi Jjim, jeon, japchae, etc. Don't know what these are? Check out our blog about Seollal foods in the link below!
Another thing Koreans do on Seollal is to wish their elders a happy new year by performing a bow called sebae(세배). Usually, the elders of the family sit, and the children go in front and bow to them to wish them good luck in the coming year. This is the part children look forward to most on Seollal! Do you know why?
It's because they receive money! The elders give their children money to symbolize their blessings. For this reason, Seollal is an exciting day for children to get some extra allowance. All families are different, but often, families give unemployed adults money as well.
Since the whole family is together, it's the perfect time to play games! Even though it's not played often, it's very fun to play with relatives.
Many of you may be familiar with the traditional Korean game, Yut Nori (윷놀이) and it is a traditional game that many still play. It's played by throwing four sticks and different combinations correspond to different movements, like a board game. Two to three groups can play together, so it's perfect to play when the whole family is gathered for Seollal.
Visiting Ancestors' Graves
In Korea, after the ancestral rights are performed on the first morning of Seollal, they go to their ancestors' graves to greet them and tidy up the graves. When they are done cleaning the grave, Koreans pay their respects and gratitude to their ancestors by bowing. Men bow twice and women bow once. Then, incense is lit and wine or alcohol is sprinkled three times on the grave.
People usually remove the weeds around the grave. Since many people are busy with work or live far from their family homes, they don't have time to tidy the graves frequently.
Therefore, during long holidays like Seollal, many people bring their families to clean up their ancestors' graves.
We wish everyone a Happy Lunar New Year! We hope this blog helped you understand how Lunar New Year is celebrated in Korea! How different is it from your country? Write it in the comments below! If you have any questions or concerns, please leave a comment below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! You can follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook to stay updated on all things Korea!