Korean New Year or ‘Seollal’, falling on February 10 this year, is a festival and national holiday that usually occurs in January or February on the second new moon after the winter solstice, unless there is an intercalary 11th or 12th month in the lead-up to the New Year. It marks the first day of the Korean calendar. It is one of the most important traditional Korean holidays.
History of Korean New Year
Seollal is a cultural holiday, which has its roots in traditional Chinese Confucianism and is celebrated on the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. It usually lasts three days — the day before Korean New Year, Korean New Year itself, and the day after Korean New Year.
The “Book of Sui” and the “Book of Tang” have the first recorded histories of Silla, an old kingdom from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., that celebrated Seollal. The Joseon dynasty, a renowned kingdom that ruled from 1392 to 1897 also has traces of government officials gathering in the five grand palaces to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Seollal is a unique Korean tradition, influenced by China, and is based on the lunar cycle. Each year represents a different animal and the cycle is repeated every 12 years. The 12 animals are the following: mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The order of the animals is thought to have been based on the sequence in which they were invited to see Buddha.
Koreans believe that the animal representing the year that a baby is born will attribute certain characters and qualities to that baby. There are even some parents who plan the birth year of their children in accordance with this belief.
Korean New Year timeline
Silla is considered to be one of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea.
Seollal first becomes a major Korean holiday during the reign of the Goryeo dynasty.
After more than 100 years of peace, the kingdom is torn by conflicts in the 10th century.
The 400-year-old Goryeo Dynasty goes into decline by the late 14th century.
Korean New Year FAQs
Is Korean New Year the same as Chinese New Year?
“Korean Lunar New Year or 설날 (Seollal) is the Korean version of Chinese New Year. It is celebrated at the same time as Chinese New Year (except for a rare case every several years where they fall a day apart) and, as the name indicates, is dependent on the lunar calendar,” according to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.
How do you wish Happy New Year in Korean?
“Saehae bok mani badeuseyo” or “Please receive a lot of luck in the new year.” Just like you say “Happy New Year!” on New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve to friends and family, you can use this phrase interchangeably
What do you give a Korean on New Year?
“Gifts include fresh fruits, ginseng, honey, gift baskets (with tuna, spam, traditional sweets, dried fish) toiletries, and cash,” according to Crazy Korean Cooking.
Korean New Year Activities
In addition to yummy food and family reunions, another reason that Seollal is a special holiday is the custom of giving and receiving gifts. This gift-giving extends beyond homes to workplaces when companies usually offer each of their employees a gift as well. So the best way to celebrate would be by giving gifts.
Play folk games
We can also celebrate by participating in traditional folk games. Folk games are a major part of New Year festivities for Koreans. The most commonly played game is ‘Yut Nori,’ a traditional Korean board game. Men also go out for some kite flying, starting on the Lunar New Year and in the days leading up to the new year’s first full-moon day. For young women, ‘neol ddwigi’ is also a popular activity.
Eat Korean food
Almost any large family gathering in any culture generally revolves largely around food. So an amazing way to celebrate Korean New Year is by eating Korean food. One main dish that is considered comfort food during Korean New Year is ‘Tteokguk’ (rice cake soup). This starchy and soothing bowl of soup is a beloved New Year's tradition.
5 Facts About Korean New Year
Hiding their shoes
Koreans hide their shoes as they believe that if a person’s shoes go missing, it's because ghosts have taken them away and bad luck will follow that person for the whole year.
Hanging strainers on their walls
People rush to the market early in the morning to buy ‘bokjori’ (bamboo strainers), which are hung up high on their houses’ walls to bring/catch good luck and fortune.
‘Sebae,’ the Korean New Year bow
After eating the food, the young members of every family perform a ritual called ‘sebae’ or ‘New Year’s bow,’ which is the act of bowing deeply.
‘Charye’ — an ancestral worship ceremony
Koreans believe that their ancestors visit them on Seollal so they prepare special food to pay tribute to their ancestors and call this practice ‘charye.’
People prefer traditional clothing to celebrate this big day — South Koreans wear ‘hanbok,’ which has beautifully embroidered patterns and colors, on this day.
Why We Love Korean New Year
It brings unity
People celebrate Seollal with great joy. Family members and relatives get together to practice their different traditions and rituals and celebrate in the spirit of this day.
It is a time of reflection and hope
People understand the value and significance of marking the end of one year and the beginning of another. This is a time for reflection, hope, and high spirits. That is what makes it extremely special.
It is a time to pay respects
Korean New Year is the time to pay respects to family members and ancestors. That is why visiting the graves of ancestors is a common practice for the day. In addition to this, the younger kids bow to their elders and, in return, receive pocket money from them. These practices increase their love and respect for each other.
Korean New Year dates