What is Korean New Year?
설날 / seol-lal
You may wonder why the date for Korea’s New Year’s Day changes every year and falls in January or February, making it confusing for some who try to keep track with America’s standard Gregorian calendar. This is due to Korea’s use of the lunisolar calendar (different from the lunar calendar) that tracks both the moon and the sun. Depending on the position of the sun and also the phases of the moon, the number of days and months in a year will vary. Sometimes there are 12 months, sometimes 13!
Korea has traditionally always used the lunisolar calendar, but since 1896, switched to the Gregorian calendar – using the lunisolar only for holidays, festivals, memorial services, and occasionally birthdays. Major holidays like Seollal, Chuseok, and Buddha’s Birthday are common days dictated by the lunisolar calendar.
On to the festivities!
세배 / sae-bae
Seollal is traditionally a holiday meant for family celebration, as people will travel back home to respect their elders and ancestors while eating good food. Sae-bae is one of the key traditions, with family members dressed in hanbok or new/nice clothing greeting their elders. The children of the household will be gathered and greet the elders with a deep traditional bow. The children will say “새해 복 많이 받으세요!” which roughly translates to “Please receive a lot of blessings/luck this new year!” and in return, receive special new year’s money from the elders.
Traditionally, families will also pay tribute to their ancestors through a je-sa ceremony. This consists of setting up a table of food in front of a portrait of the ancestor, bowing, and lighting incense. Typical foods you’ll find on the 상 sang (table) will be: fish, rice, jeon, dried dates, pears, apples, persimmons, chestnuts, and alcohol.
떡국 / dduk-guk
Ddukguk is an absolute staple at Seollal. It’s a soup base filled with sliced rice cakes and sometimes dumplings, making it a filling and homey meal. It is tradition that you must eat a bowl of dduk-guk in order to grow one year older for the new year. Check out Maangchi’s recipe on how to make the dish!
전 / jeon
There will usually be an assortment of jeon at the table – vegetables, meats, or seafood fried in a savory pancake batter. Family members can participate by frying the small jeons together and snacking on a few before dinner. It’s a simple and fun dish for family to prepare and eat together! Check out Korean Bapsang for recipes on the various types of jeon!
윷놀이 / yut-no-ri
Yutnori is a very common game played during the New Year festivities. The game is made up of 4 wooden sticks and a board, where each player will throw the sticks in the air and advance on the board depending on how they land.
Other common games are 연날리기 / yeon-nal-li-gi, 제기차기 / je-gi-cha-gi, 널뛰기 / neol-ttwi-gi, 공기놀이 / gong-gi-no-ri.
Happy New Year from KoreanAmericanStory.org! 새해 복 많이 받으세요!