The Lunar New Year, Seollal, is one of the most celebrated traditional holidays in Korea. While many celebrate the January 1 New Year’s Day (the Solar New Year), Seollal, the first day of the lunar calendar, has more traditional meanings and is more important to most Koreans.
You might now wonder what is special about this “Lunar” New Year and how Koreans observe the traditional festival… well, let’s find out!
Q: What is exactly “Lunar” New Year?
A: “Lunar New Year” is the first day of a traditional lunisolar calendar used in many east Asian countries. Korean lunar calendar is derived from the traditional Chinese calendar. And Gregorian calendar, the solar calendar, was only officially adopted in Korea in 1896, lunar calendar is kept as a tradition and still casually used by older generations.
Q: When is it?
A: Since it follows the lunisolar calendar, date of Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, on the Gregorian calendar changes from year to year. This year the Korean New Year is on Jan. 28th, while 2018’s Seollal will be on Feb. 16th.
Q: So it must be a holiday in Korea?
A: You bet!! What’s more, the Seollal holiday actually lasts for three days, the day of , the day before, and the day after!
Q: What is the traditional way to observe Seollal?
A: Celebrations have changed from the past but in general, the morning of Seollal begins with the family members gathering in their Seolbim (special clothing for Seollal) for an ancestral rite. The ritual is conducted to express respect and gratitude to one’s ancestors, following which, families gather together and enjoy the ritual food.
After meal, younger generations of the family pay respect to their elders by taking a deep bow called Sebae, and by presenting them with gifts. Children then receive Sebaetdon (New Year’s Lucky money) from the elders, usually their parents or grandparents. The elders also offer their blessings and wishes for a prosperous year.
Q: Any special food to eat at Seollal?
A: For thr first meal of Seollal, it’s a traditional to have Tteokguk, a traditional Korean rice cake soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, eggs, vegetables, and other ingredients in celebration of a new beginning, in the hopes of longevity and good health. It is also believed eating tteokguk at Seollal is to add one year to one’s age.
Q: Why are there so many roosters in this year’s Seollal decoration?
A: In Korea, every year is represented by one of the 12 zodiac signs, which take the form of twelve guardian animal deities collectively known as Sibijisin, literally meaning “twelve (sibi) gods of the earth (jisin)”.
The rooster is the tenth animal deity among the Sibijisin, and the year 2017 is also referred to as Jeongyunyeon (‘Jeong-‘ means ‘red’ and ‘-yu’ means a rooster) or “The Year of The Red Rooster.”
Q: What can I do traveling during Seollal holiday in Korea?
A: Most department stores, restaurants, traditional markets and tourist sites in Korea will stay closed during the Seollal holiday, especially on the day of Seollal (Jan 28, 2017) and the day before or after. You might find the streets besoming more quite as most people leave the capital to return home or travel abroad.
But don’t worry, we’ve listed places that still open to visitors during the Seollal holiday, and some of them even offer special programs on Seollal!
Gyeongbokgung Palace: Close on Tuesdays
Namsangol Hanok Village: Close on Tuesdays
UNESCO World Heritage Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon: Close on Mondays
Deoksugung Palace: Close on Mondays
Seoul Museum of History: Close on Mondays
Hope this will help you plan your trip in Korea and enjoy your stay during Seollal!
*Information & pictures from Visitkorea and the Internet
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