Seollal: Lunar New Year

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Seollal (Lunar New Year; January 1 of the lunar calendar) is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Korea. This year, Seollal falls on February 19 of the Gregorian calendar. More than just a holiday to mark the beginning of a new year, Seollal is truly a special occasion for Korean people. It is characterized by paying respect to ancestors and catching up with distant family members who travel home to get together for this special occasion. During Seollal Koreans traditionally wear hanbok (traditional clothes), perform ancestral rites, play folk games, eat traditional foods, listen to stories and catch up with one another.

Seollal is a 3-days-holiday. This year the holiday starts on Wednesday February 18, the day before Seollal. Seollal itself is on Thursday February 19 and the day after Seollal is on Friday
February 20.

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The days before Seollal are filled with preparations regarding gifts, traveling and the holiday feast itself. Department stores and markets are usually very crowded during the days leading up to
Seollal. A lot of people need to travel a long way to their hometowns which causes a mad rush to book busses, trains or plane tickets before they all sell out. Travelling by car will take two to four times the normal travel time due to heavy traffic.

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The morning of Seollal begins with an ancestral rite. Family members are dressed up in hanbok or Western formal attire. They gather in front of the ritual table and set on it an ancestral tablet and dishes of ritual foods which are according to the laws of ancestral rites. The rite begins with deep bows as greetings to the ancestor spirits and proceeds with offerings and prayers before
ending with bidding farewell to the spirits. The ritual is conducted to express respect and gratitude to one’s ancestors and to pray for the family’s well-being throughout the year.

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Following the rite, everyone gathers together and eats the ritual food. The main dish of the day is tteokguk, a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, egg, vegetables, and other ingredients. In Korea, eating tteokguk on New Year’s day is believed to add a year to one’s age. People often ask each other: “How many servings of tteokguk have you had?” as a fun way to ask each other’s age.

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After the meal, the younger generations of the family pay respect to their elders by taking a deep bow called sebae and by presenting them with gifts. Then, the elders offer their blessing and
wishes for a prosperous year. Children often receive sebaetdon (New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift. For the remainder of the day family members play traditional folk games, eat food and share stories.

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Credit: VisitKorea & Google Images, thank you!

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