Celebrating Seollal in Korea
What is Seollal
Seollal (January 1 of the lunar calendar) is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Korea, which usually lasts for three days (the day of, the day before, and the day after). This year, Seollal falls on February 8 of the Gregorian calendar.
The year 2016 is referred to as Byeongsinnyeon (‘Byeong-‘ means ‘red’ and ‘-sin’ means a monkey) or “The Year of Red Monkey.
What do Korean do during Seollal
The day before Seollal
Seollal demands a lot of preparation, and this ritual or the process of the preparation is called ‘charye’ in Korean, especially in terms of gifts, traveling, and the holiday feast!
The foods for ancestral rites during charye are prepared with a variety of wild herbs, meat, fish, and fruits all chosen with great attention paid to the quality of their shape, color, and freshness. The diversity and quantities of the preparation are huge, largely enough to feed and be shared with people who do not really celebrate the day as a cultural custom.
On the day of Seollal
The morning of Seollal begins with an ancestral rite. Family members, each dressed up for the occasion, gather in front of the ritual table and set on it an ancestral tablet and dishes of ritual foods, which are according to the rules of ancestral rites.
Following the rite, everyone gathers together and eats the tteok-guk, a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, egg, vegetables, and other ingredients. In Korea, eating tteok-guk on New Year’s Day is believed to add a year to one’s age. People often ask each other, “How many servings of tteok-guk have you had?” as a fun way to ask each other’s age.
After the meal, the younger generations of the family pay respect to their elders by taking calledsebae. Then, the elders offer their blessings and wishes for a prosperous year. Children often receive sebaetdon (New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift.
Traditional games to enjoy on Seollal
For the rest of the day, family members play traditional folk games, eat food, and share stories. As Seollal is an opportunity for the entire family to engage in fun activities together. The most common activity is yutnori, a board game that involves throwing four wooden sticks. This game is so easy to learn that all family members, regardless of age, can enjoy playing in teams and making fun bets.