Seollal or Korean New Year is one of the most significant holidays celebrated throughout the country. February marks another significant festival in Korea – Lunar New Year. Many exciting activities await both locals and visitors during this wonderful time. You can watch traditional events and cultural performances in celebration of Korean New Year in Seoul. New Year celebrations in East Asia vary by country. While Japan follows the January 1 date of the Western Gregorian calendar, China celebrates the Chinese New Year between late January and February based on the lunar calendar. This year, the Chinese New Year will fall on 25 January. South Korea, however, combines the best of both worlds with two separate yet similar New Year celebrations.
For Koreans, New Year’s Day, commonly known as Seollal, occurs at two times during the year. One occurs on the first day of the year on the lunar calendar, and the other on January 1 on the Gregorian calendar. The lunar Korean New Year is a three-day holiday to return home and visit extended family, along with performing ceremonies to honor your ancestors. Based on the lunar calendar, the lunar Seollal is usually celebrated on the same day as the Chinese New Year. How to celebrate Chinese New Year 2020 in Korea?
When is Korean New Year?
Known as Seollal, Korean New Year is the first day of the lunar Korean calendar. It is the most important of the traditional Korean holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year’s Day.
The Korean New Year holidays last three days. It is customary and may be required under collective bargaining agreements for South Korean businesses to close for the lunar new year. In South Korea, the festival centers on family reunions, food and placating the ancestors.
During the New Year festivities, it is common for adults to wear the colourful traditional costume, the Hanbok. Traditional women’s hanbok consists of a blouse shirt or a jacket and chima, a wrap-around skirt, which is usually worn full. Men’s hanbok consists of a shirt and baji which means pants in Korea.
Chinese New Year traditions in Korea
While the Chinese New Year has remained a steadfast tradition in China, the lunar holiday has been inconsistently celebrated on the Korean Peninsula. In North Korea, the lunar New Year was abolished in 1953 following the Korean War and was not revived until 1967. It was designated as a three-day holiday in 2003. Similarly, South Korea abandoned the lunar New Year after the Korean War as it impacted taxation and was seen as a direct result of Chinese influence. Despite the lack of official recognition, many families continued to celebrate Seollal and perform related rituals based on the first day of the lunar calendar. In 1985, the Korean government acknowledged these celebrations with a public holiday, “Folklore Day.” Four years later, the government replaced Folklore Day with the reinstatement of the lunar New Year’s Day, officially naming it a three-day public holiday.
What to see in Korea on the Chinese New Year 2020?
If you’re more of an explorer, visit Namsangol Hanok Village to take part in traditional performances, folk games, and traditional activities. Alternatively, head over to the Korean Folk Village to welcome the New Year with such special events as daljiptaeugi (sheaf burning), jisinbalgi (praying for abundance through music), sharing tteokguk (sliced rice cake soup) or fortune telling. You can also join arts and crafts classes when you visit National Folk Museum of Korea at this time of the year.
The soup that takes a year to eat
Tteokguk is a traditional Korean food that is customarily eaten for the New Year. The dish is a soup with thinly sliced rice cakes. According to tradition the Korean New Year is similar to a birthday for Koreans, and having Tteokguk is part of the birthday celebration. Once you finish eating your Tteokguk, you are one year older.
Chinese New Year 2020 with family in Korea
Many Korean families gather to celebrate both Seollals as family-focused holidays filled with food, gifts, and quality time with extended family. January 1 on both calendars is an especially auspicious day as it takes resolutions into immediate effect and represents the kind of year you wish to have. If you want to eat healthier in the new year, you eat as healthy as possible on January 1 (but allowing leniency for feasting). This can also include being on your best behavior, being respectful and kind, staying safe and avoiding recklessness, and even wearing new clothes. To demonstrate generosity, hosts will feed all guests the most common Seollal foods. And if you want to learn more about Korean customs and the folk games, visit the Unhyeongung Royal Residence where they have a special exhibition of Charyesang (ancestor memorial service table). With so many things to do, one can be assured of a truckload of memories.
New Year’s Eve
Celebrations on New Year’s Eve in Korea would be similar to the western traditions such as parties and fireworks. A recent tradition is the ringing of the historic Boshingak Bell. The bell was originally constructed in 1396 and is now only rung on Lunar New Year. Another New Year’s Eve custom is playing Yunnori, a traditional board game.
Chinese New Year 2020 in Korea food
Food is one of the most important and symbolic traditions of Seollal. Korean rice cakes, or tteok, are generally thin, long rolls of glutinous rice that are chopped into smaller slices. Tteok is known for both its length and stickiness, respectively signifying longevity and the wish for good fortune, money, health, and happiness to “stick” to you in the new year. Tteok can eaten in a traditional soup, called tteokguk.
Korean tteok is not specific to Seollal, and it takes so many forms and types that there is a dedicated Tteok Museum in Seoul. Tteok is also eaten for good luck at other times throughout the year, including before the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). The CSAT is known for determining which college a student will attend, and some students eat tteok the morning of the exam so the knowledge will “stick” to them.