Korean New Year is NOT the same as Chinese New Year….
But it is similar. And everyone has a tendency to refer to the Lunar New Year as Chinese New Year. Although, it’s no wonder because China has the world’s largest population!
Not to mention that the traditions of Chinese New Year are just fun with dragon dances, fireworks, and the like!
However, it is not entirely correct to refer to the Lunar New Year as Chinese New Year, because many other countries also celebrate the Lunar New Year. And one of those countries is the Republic of Korea!
So what is Lunar New Year?
Just as the name implies, the Lunar New Year is dictated by the cycles of the moon. However, what people refer to as the Lunar New Year is really the lunisolar calendar, which are according to the cycles of the moon but it’s also adjusted to keep in sync, sort-of, with the solar year. So the “Lunar New Year” for many East Asian countries, including South Korea, is usually on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
For the year 2018, Lunar New Year begins on Friday, February 15th. Occasionally, about every 24 years, Korean New Year will occur one day after Chinese New Year because of the new moon between Korea’s midnight (15:00UTC) and China’s midnight (16:00UTC).
Okay, so nearly everyone in the world has adopted the Gregorian calendar and thus celebrate new year’s day on January 1st. However, the Lunar New Year is still celebrated as a tradition in many Asian countries.
How do South Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year?
First of all, it’s called “Seollal” or “Seolnal.” And it’s celebrated over three days, the day before the first day of the new year, the day of, and the day after. So Seollal for 2018 is February 15th-17th.
What’s a Holiday Without Some Drama?
Traditionally, it’s been a time to get together with family. So people travel all over to spend time with them. It’s an extremely busy travel time in South Korea. And with the 2018 Winter Olympics occurring at the same time in Pyeongchang, I can’t imagine how crazy the airports and train stations must be! People even visit their in-laws! It’s considered rude if you don’t! 🙄
And you’d better bring a gift set or two!
It’s customary to give gift sets of food. Cooking oils and spam are extremely popular! (Spam became popular during World War II and it just never went away….probably because of all the preservatives. 😆)
What’s a South Korean holiday without paying respects to the ancestors? Not a holiday at-all! So expect deep, thoughtful, and respectful bowing. And it must be in either the new clothes you bought for Seollal or traditional Korean dress (the hanbok). The hanbok is traditionally worn for special events like new year’s day, weddings, funerals (that’s special one in and of itself), birthday parties, etc. – You get the picture. But many people forgo the hanbok for modern clothes because the hanbok can be expensive (silk tends to be), and people just don’t want to spend the money on something they wear so infrequently. Plus, it isn’t comfortable!
Will Bow for Money
There’s bowing to deceased ancestors and then bowing to living ancestors. For example, if your grandparents are living and in the room, you’d do the full and formal bow in front of them and they would likely give you a colorful pouch with a crisp bill inside. (If you haven’t noticed, newness is a big deal on new year’s day.) Getting money is, of course, not the point of all the bowing but it’s always exciting for a kid and makes the old folks happy too!
Don’t Forget to Wear Your Fat Pants
So after all the bowing, it’s finally time to eat! There has to be a feast at every major holiday. Since Seollal is over three days, it’s definitely a gluttonous time! Some of the traditional foods on the table are tteokguk (rice cake soup), all kinds of jeon (pancakes – not the breakfast kind), japchae (glass noodle stir fry), bulgogi (Korean marinated beef), yaksik or yakbap (Korean sweet rice), and shikye (sweet rice punch).
It’s Game Time
If everyone isn’t in a food coma, it’s time to play games! (Or more likely watch t.v.) Traditional games still played include yut nori, gonggi, jegichagi, and hwatu. But if you’re lucky enough to go to a Folk Village, you’d see people flying rectangular kites or neolttwigi (a see-saw where you jump instead of sit!).
There may not be dragon dances or lion parades like Chinese New Year celebrations, but that’s okay. South Korea has it’s own rich history and traditions for Lunar New Year! So I, for one, wouldn’t mind wearing an uncomfortable hanbok, eating tteokguk (which is delicious) and giving or receiving a spam gift set (also delicious…no really!).
Do you celebrate Lunar New Year? What are your traditions for it?