Seollal: The Korean New Year

Seollal (설랄) is the Korean term for New Year and also describes the festivities which are happening on New Year’s Day. Like many other Asian cultures, Koreans also follow the lunar calendar. That is why their New Year’s celebration happens on February 12th this year. This is how you could imagine a typical traditional Korean New Year:

The New Year’s celebrations usually take place at the oldest male family member’s house. When the whole family (which can be quite big) gets together, preparations for the festivities start very early. This means that one after the other dish is prepared in the kitchen and the families dress in their hanbok, the traditional Korean costume. After the ritualistic setting-up of the gift table and honouring the ancestors, the family enjoys a feast. And finally, the children can bow to their parents and family members in order to receive gifts of money in return. These New Year’s money gifts are called Sebaetdon (세뱃돈).

The Korean costume hanbok

The hanbok (한복) used to be part of everyday clothing for Koreans about 100 years ago. Today they are actually only worn to festivities, such as Seollal. Otherwise you will surely see a lot of tourists in hanboks walking around in Seoul. There are many shops where you can borrow a hanbok for a few hours to walk around Seoul and take unique souvenir photos. Hanboks come in different styles that have adapted over time to the fashion of the respective era. Classic hanboks are admired for their elegant shapes and beautiful colours. Hanboks for women are usually bell-shaped. A short jacket is worn together with a long, voluminous skirt. Underneath you wear an undershirt and long pants. The hanbok look is often completed with a small handbag and delicate hair accessories. Hanboks for men are similar in shape. However, they consist of a jacket, a vest and wide trousers.

What Koreans eat for Seollal

At Seollal, people don't just eat. According to traditional rules, a table for presents is set up. Each dish has its predefined place on the table. Basically this rule applies: Red in the East, White in the West. This means that the local fruits, meat, fish and seafood are placed in the East. In the West are the imported fruits and desserts. What kind of food is there at Seollal? Sweet red bean porridge with rice cake is eaten a few weeks before Seollal. This is supposed to drive away evil spirits. Rice cake soup and rice cake rolls are eaten on New Year’s Day. That should promise a long life. There is also rice prepared with different types of grain. This is said to bring health. As you can see, every dish has a deep meaning.

Seollal games

In addition to the delicious food, traditional games are also part of the New Year celebrations. On the one hand there is Hwatu (화투), a traditional Korean card game. Yutnori (윷놀이) is also very common. This is a board game with wooden sticks.

We hope that today we could bring you a little closer to Korean culture. Do you know any other Korean holidays?

Tags: K-Culture

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