Seollal: Behind the Festivity

Seollal: Behind the Festivity

With the Korean New Year, Seollal, coming up on January 25th, here are some of the basic components that makes Seollal meaningful!

  • Hanbok | 한복

Hanbok is a traditional Korean custom dress that is worn on both holidays and special occasions. From simplistically to vibrant colors and patterns, hanbok is traditional attire that can accommodate people’s needs. Besides the clothing, it is usually accompanied by a traditional headpiece and/or pouch bags. 

  • Rice Cake Soup | 떡국

Eating rice cake soup on Seollal is a Korean tradition. It is said that with the consumption of the rice cake soup, you add more years to your age. The rice cake used in the soup is called garaetteok, or 가래떡, which signifies a prosperous life and wishing for the new year to be a year of virtue.

  • Seollal Song | 까치 까치 설날

During Seollal, it is common to hear children singing this song as it represents one of the most well-known Seollal songs. 

There are various theories as to how the magpie was chosen to be the animal in the song, but one of the reasons was that during the Shilla dynasty, the magpie, the pig, the rat, and the dragon saved the king from death. While other animals received recognition for their bravery and help, the magpie did not. Therefore, from pity and gratitude, the king made the Korean New Year's Eve the day of the magpie, thus adding onto the interpretation of the song lyric.

  • Ancestral Rites | 차례

An essential part of Seollal is the ancestral rite. From fruits to meats, a table filled with food is presented to the ancestors. Then, family members gather in front of the table and greet them by giving a respectful bow. Although it depends on different regions, it is common to observe that the adults give a bow first, which is then followed by the children giving their bows. 

After the bowing process, the food is shared among the family members. It is thought that when they are eating the food, they are also absorbing their ancestors’ wisdom and righteousness.

  • New Years Bow | 세배

Bowing has many significance — it signifies respect, greetings, etc. During Seollal, children line up before the adults and give them a bow to signify greeting for the new year. 

In return, the adults give some deokdam, or 덕담 which is a word of blessing along with allowances. 

What do you think makes Seollal meaningful? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by Jessica Lee