Seollal, or the Lunar New Year, is one of the major holidays in South Korea, along with Chuseok. The entire country celebrates the festival on the first day of the lunar calendar, which falls on January 22 this year. During the time of Seollal, most Koreans visit their family homes and spend time with their families, ushering in the new year with traditional customs, food, and games.
Here are five interesting facts about the cultural festival:
1. Public Holiday
Just like Chuseok, the occasion of Seollal also comes with three days of government-approved holiday. The three days usually include the day before new year’s day, new year’s day, and the day after. Since this year, new year’s day is on a Sunday, according to the Transfer Holiday Expansion Law of Korea, the public holiday is shifted on January 24.
2. Busiest Time Of The Year
During Seollal, people travel to their native places in droves, and the rush is at its peak when it comes to booking tickets or buying gifts. The roads are at their busiest, and many shops and restaurants close down during the holiday. Even non-residential Koreans tend to fly in from abroad to catch up with their families during this time. The occasion of Seollal marks one of the biggest temporary mass migrations within the country. In 2016, The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport estimated that around 36 million South Koreans were on the move during the lunar new year, which was about 70% of the population at that time.
There are many traditional customs observed during Seollal that tend to modify based on the region. But here are some of the common practices:
Hiding Shoes On Seollal Eve:
There is a popular belief in Korea that ghosts enter the world before new year’s eve and try on different shoes that are left out in the open. If they find a shoe that perfectly fits them, they take it away. If someone’s shoes go missing during this time, it means that they will be cursed with bad luck for a year. So, hiding shoes before the Seollal eve is a folk custom that many follow.
Bokjori, For Good Luck:
The day of Seollal is usually started early, with people rushing to the market in the early morning to buy Bokjori, a bamboo strainer used to wash rice. This strainer is hung high on the walls of a house to catch good luck and fortune. It is also believed that the earlier someone reaches the market to buy the Bokjori, the bigger the luck they will be blessed with.
Koreans believe that on the day of Seollal their ancestors visit them and enjoy the celebrations with them. So, the day starts with Charye, where people set the table with a variety of traditional food and drinks to pay tribute to their ancestors. Family members gather together and pray for peace and a better afterlife for their deceased predecessors.
Dressed in traditional hanboks, younger family members offer saebae, or the new year’s bow, to the elders. They also present them with gifts, which often include money, fruits, spam, hone, ginseng, hanwoo set, or health products. In return, the elders give their blessing and often offer saebae-don or new year’s money to the younger family members.
Food is an integral part of any traditional Korean celebration. While Koreans enjoy the usual japche, jeon, and other festive recipes during Seollal, the one food item that takes center stage is tteokguk. It is a savory soup made with sliced rice cakes, usually served in a beef-based broth and garnished with green onions, eggs, and meat. The rice cakes are sliced in thin oval shapes to resemble yeopjeon, a historical Korean currency, and the broth is white in color. While the rice cake’s shape is meant to bring in wealth and good luck, the clear broth indicates a clean start to the new year. Koreans also believe that eating tteokguk on new year’s day adds one year to your age.
The most popular activities that Korean people participate in during Seollal are yutnori and go-stop. Go-stop is a card game played with the 48-card deck of Hwatu, the traditional Korean cards. Yut is a much older board game played with four sticks and four playing pieces.
Apart from card games, people also enjoy other traditional activities. Men usually participate in yeonnalligi, which is flying rectangular kites. Women traditionally play neoltwigi, a game of jumping on a seesaw. They also played gongginori, a game played with five little gonggi (little stone-like toys). Children would usually spend time spinning tops, but of course, the scenario has changed in modern times.