Culture

Seollal, Korean New Year's Day

Most countries have something in common. It is to celebrate the New year's coming and the harvest season. To thank for all the things they have around and just to enjoy the holiday with beloved people. Korea also celebrates these days aforementioned, and they call them Seollal and Chuseok.

Seollal is the first day of the lunar calendar. Chuseok is also on the lunar calendar, a seasonal festival. During these seasons, families get together to have special foods and to hold a memorial service for their ancestors at home or at the family graves.

You might get accustomed to seeing that the cars are bumper-to-bumper on the highway during these holiday seasons. Every year, it repeats. People just want to visit their hometown and spend time with their families especially their parents and close relatives.

This celebration has been heredited since thousand years ago, so there's naturally something we need to follow: the ritual. But in this article, let's focus more on food and traditional classic games what Korean do during family reunions- on Seollal.


Seollal is korean word indicating the first day of the year by the lunar calendar. (In 2021, February 11-13 is for Seollal holiday!) They eat rice cake soup, Tteokguk. Its texture is soft but chewy. It is regarded as a classic food with symbolic meaning. Eating Tteokguk is to wash the bad things away since the white color of tteok means the pure and the cleanliness. You wish for the fresh start for the year as chewing and swallowing it.

Tteokguk (Image Source: folkency.nfm.go.kr)

Tteokguk tteok is called Garaetteok, and it is supposed to be made as much long as possible; wishing for a long and healthy life. And then garaetteok needs to be cut in round-shape to dive into the soup. There's saying the round-shape tteok looks like old coins- with higher values back then- so eating these gives you the best luck as possible to be in comfortable life. So I could say Tteokguk is not only tasty but also inherited the ancestor's desire to wish their best luck.

Another story about Tteokguk from mouth to mouth is here; having a bowl of tteokguk means to get a year older. So children who wish to be an adult often have extra bowls. Then adults tease them like, “How many bowls of tteokguk did you have?” to ask their age.

Fun fact! 😆
Three Far East Asian countries(Korea, China, and Japan) have similar customs on New year’s day; eating hot broth with tteok. Since rice is the main routine food in these countries, they decided to make special food using rice for a special day.


Wearing the new clothes on Seollal is Seolbim. Colorful costumes are recommended in hopes for the year to come- full of joy and brightness. After you put on Seolbim, there's a rule to follow; Sebae. It's a ritual to bow to the elder, the grandparents and the parents. Sebae is a greeting ritual in a polite way and then people share their blessing with one another. As bowing, you can say ‘Saehae bok mani badeuseyo’ meaning best wishes for the new year. The elder will give some kind and great words wishing for your best luck with an allowance called Sabaetdon. It's in return for sebae.

And I cannot leave Bokjori the fortune strainer, a symbolic thing wishing for a great fortune of new year. It is a bamboo-woven object conceived from a jori, a kitchen utensil used for digging and washing rice before cooking. Korean in the past believed that fortune can be scooped up with bokjori and they hung it on the wall of their house in Seollal.


The traditional classic games Korean have played in Seollal are Yut Nori(game of yut) and Yeon-nalligi(kite-flying). People play Yut nori rather than Yeon-nalligi these days. It is because Yoen-nalligi needs to be more prepared- a kite and perfect weather with a moderate level of wind. But Yut nori is an easy board game playing with four yut sticks, throwing them and moving tokens on the board according to the numbers that came out.

Yut nori(Game of yut) (Image Source: auction.co.kr)

The numbers that can come out are from 1 to 5 and each of them are called do(pig), gae(dog), geol(sheep), yut(cow), mo(horse). These five animals signify sacred animals, meaning five tribes in an ancient country in Korea. It is derived from the old totem myth. As time goes by, these five sacred animals indicate the five essential livestocks.


Looking forward to Seollal, we’ve looked into how meaningful new year’s day is in Korea and what customs Korean have. All the traditional events mean to get a larger fortune for the year. But sadly it would be hard to family-gather in this Seollal because of the pandemic.

So hoping that everything gets better, PhD.GO wishes all our readers 새해 복 많이 받으세요! All your best for this new year!

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This article is write from dragonEditor(Lovefield) & License

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