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Korean Style Greetings: How to do a Sebae bow on Seollal, Lunar New Year’s Day
Korean Style Greetings: How to do a Sebae bow on Seollal, Lunar New Year’s Day

Confucianism has had a very strong influence on all aspects of Korean society. One ancient Confucian tradition that still remains today is the notion of bowing to elders as a sign of respect, known as Jeol. There are various types of Jeols, and which one you use depends on the formality of the situation and the people involved. For example, when two people meet for the first time, the usual greeting is for both people to do a small Jeol, nodding their head while leaning their upper body forward a bit. It is used in the same way as a handshake.

Another part of Confucianism is the concept of honoring ones ancestors. On the official day of Seollal, Koreans change into Hanboks to symbolize new beginnings by starting off with a clean body and heart. The Jeol is also a very important aspect of this ritual and of course, in such a formal occasion, a light bow would simply just not suffice. In this case, the bow is similar to what you may have seen Buddhists or Muslims doing. This kind of Jeol, performed on Seollal, is called a Saebae and to perform it one must get down on both of their knees and bend forward toward the floor. A tradition that young people in Korea particularly love is that during the Seollal if they do a Keun Jeol to their elders, like parents and grandparents, they can receive a little envelope with some money tucked inside. People also make this traditional formal bow to their elders on such special occasions as wedding days or traditional holidays.

Let's Learn How to Perform 'Sebae'.

1. Hand positions

In the case of women, usually she places her right hand above the left hand, and vice versa for the man.
To express grief at funerals, women place their left hand over their right hand, and the opposite for the man.
However, when performing sebae, the woman places her right hand above the left hand, and the man places his left hand above his right hand.

2. Man's Sebae

① Place one's left hand above the right. Stand up straight with your hands resting in front of the lower abdomen (right below the navel).
② Raise both hands to the chest.
③ Place both hands on the floor as you bend your knees.
④ Bend your upper body and bow your head.
⑤ Once your head touches the back of your left hand, stand up by raising your right knee first.
⑥ Raise both hands up to your chest once more before returning your hands to their natural position.
3. Woman's Sebae
There are two ways of observing sebae for women: simplified jeol and formal jeol. Simplified jeol is commonly performed in everyday. However, the formal jeol is usually performed for showing respect to elders on special occasions such as wedding ceremonies or other formal events.
 1. Simplified Jeol
① Place your right hand above your left hand. Stand up straight with your hands resting in front of your lower abdomen (right below the navel).
② Release your hands naturally as you bend your knees and sit.
③ Rest your hands in front of your knees, placing them at shoulder's width. Then bow your head as you bend your upper body.
④ Take your hands off the floor as you raise your upper body.
⑤ Resume your standing position with your hands in front of your lower abdomen.
2. Formal jeol
① Raise both hands up to your eye level with your head slightly bowed and eyes on your feet.
② Sit cross-legged with your hands still raised in the above position.
③ Bend your upper body about 45 degrees.
④ Stay in this position for a couple of seconds before getting up. Maintain your hands in the original position at all times.
⑤ Resume your standing position with your hands in front of your lower abdomen.

Once you have finished performing 'sebae', you can sit back down and listen to the well-wishing comments from your elders. Then, enjoy the delicious Seollal tteokguk (rice cake soup) with all your family members, and later, play folk games together like yunnori. Also, make a New Year's resolutions for a more fulfilling New Year.

Tip : How to Tie One's Hanbok Ribbon
The ribbon hanging in front of the woman's Hanbok is called the 'otgoreum' and it has a specific way of tying it. Let's learn how to tie the woman's otgoreum.
① Hold the two ribbons strings, both long and short, in your hands.
② Cross the ribbon strings, placing the short string on top of the long string.
③ Wrap the short string around the long string with its end facing the ceiling.
④ Fold the long string and place the folded string on top of your right chest. This shape is called the 'gori'.
⑤ Wrap the shorter string around the gori and make a knot.
⑥ The knot should not be too tight, and the loop should be parallel to the ceiling.
Date 01/28/2010

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