Seollal or Korean Lunar New Year: Significance, Traditions, Rituals, Food and Games
Getting to know the various traditions and rituals surrounding the auspicious occasion. Scroll ahead to know more.
Seollal or Korean Lunar New Year is the festive day celebrating the first day in the Lunar Calendar. It is one of the most important traditional Korean holidays. The celebration usually lasts three days: the day before Korean New Year, Korean New Year itself, and the day after Korean New Year. During these days, many go back to their hometowns to perform ancestral rites, eat delicious food, wear traditional Korean outfits or ‘hanbok’ and play folk games to invoke nostalgia.
Seollal generally occurs in January or February on the second new moon after the winter solstice, unless there is an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year. In such a case, the New Year falls on the third new moon after the solstice. In 2022, Seollal falls on February 1. Compared to Chuseok, Seollal carries more importance as it is treated as a holiday to spend with their family members in their hometown.
Many Koreans travel from overseas to visit their families for this annual holiday. Since it is one of the few times families may be able to get together and catch up on one another's lives, it is considered respectful and important to attend the holiday. Often, the family members first visit the elders, and this includes the grandparents and the parents. It is also considered respectful for people to visit their mothers and fathers-in-law during the Korean New Year.
One of the most important rituals performed during this auspicious occasion is called ‘charye’. Charye involves the preparation of food by female relatives and the serving of food to ancestors by male relatives. Then the family gets together for a ceremony called ‘eumbok’ where they eat the food blessed by the ancestors, allowing them to start the new year with many blessings and prosperity.
Though the food prepared for the ceremony of charye differs by region, the most common varieties are rice, soup, meat, seafood, liquor, fruit and vegetables. Another very common dish is ‘ddeokguk’ or rice cake soup which, though eaten throughout the year, carries special significance on Seollal. In South Korea, the clear broth and white rice cakes of tteokguk are believed to symbolize starting out the year with a clean mind and body.
Another important ritual that is followed is called ‘sebae’. It is the act of kneeling on the ground and bowing deeply so that your hands are also on the ground. Younger people must bow deeply to their elders and wish them a happy new year. This deep traditional bow signifies respect. While performing the ritual, one must wear ‘hanbok’. After sebae, the children receive ‘sebaetdon’ or New Year’s money as a gift from their elders. Presented in a beautiful and colorful pouch, the gift has deep meaning for South Koreans.
Many traditional games are associated with the Korean New Year. The traditional family board game ‘Yutnori’ remains a popular game, especially during Korean New Year. It is played using a set of specially designed sticks and is considered appropriate for all ages and genders. The game is played by throwing four sticks and moving your game markers around the board depending on the number of up-facing sticks. Each team has four markers and the first team to get all four of their markers around the board wins.
Like International New Years, Seollal is also a time where many set resolutions for the new year and many K-Pop groups/artists and actors unveils their message through social media handles like ATEEZ, MONSTA X, BTS and more.
With such an auspicious occasion going on, we hope that all the Koreans are enjoying the rituals, food, music and games as they happily enter the new year!
Are you celebrating Seollal? How? Let us know in the comments below.