Traditions of Seollal

By Shreeya Saldanha

Seollal (설날), or Korean Lunar New Year, is one of the most important traditional national holidays in South Korea. Seollal is a vastly-celebrated holiday and is usually celebrated for three days — starting the day before and ending the day after the Lunar New Year. Koreans living abroad or away from their hometown return to spend time with their family and celebrate the new year by feasting on delicious food, playing games, exchanging gifts and holding memorial services for their ancestors.  

  • Gift-giving

The week approaching Seollal, Koreans are busy shopping for gifts to give to their family members and friends. Gifts mainly include ginseng, fresh fruits, gift baskets (with spam, traditional sweets, dried fish), and money. 

  • Charye (차례)

Charye is an ancestral custom held on the holidays. In this ritual, Koreans pay respect to their ancestors and pray for their peace and good health. A table is set with the various dishes and alcohol that were liked by the ancestors. During Charye, the family members will bow and offer prayers to their ancestors. At the end of the ceremony, the members of the family will share the ritual food together and hope for the virtues of their ancestors to be passed onto them.

  • Sebae (세배

After the meal, the young family members perform sebae (new year’s bow) and present gifts to the elders and exchange new year’s wishes — saehae bok mani badeuseyo (새해 복 많이 받으세요) — and blessings for good health and fortune. The elders give sebaedon (세뱃돈 – new year’s money) to the young family members! The sebaedon is put into a bokjumeoni (복주머니 – traditional coin purse). 

  • Eating Tteokguk (떡국)

Tteokguk (rice cake soup) is the traditional food of Seollal. It’s made of thinly-sliced white tteok (떡 – rice cake), beef, egg, and vegetables. Tteokguk is eaten with family members on the morning of Seollal. It is believed that one gets one year older and gains luck for the year by eating a bowl of it!

  • Game Time 

Traditional folk games are played and stories are shared with family members for the rest of the day. Some of the most popular games played on Seollal are:

  • Yutnori (윷놀이) – a board game involving throwing four wooden sticks
  • Jegichagi (제기차기) – a game involving kicking a badminton shuttlecock-like object, similar to hacky-sack
  • Yeonnaligi (연날리기) – kite-flying

Seollal is a time for remembering the ancestors, visiting and spending time with the family, relishing on delicious food, having fun and playing games!

Happy Lunar New Year!!
새해 복 많이 받으세요!! 

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Written by Shreeya Saldanha

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