Sun, Aug 14, 2022, 21:14 KST (UTC+9)  Seoul  Korea

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Travel Highlights

Seollal in Korea: A Glimpse of Local Customs

  • Tag etc Event Food History Shopping Tour Trend
  • Date01/25/2022
  • Hit421034

New year’s bow

Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day; first day of the lunar calendar) is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Korea. This year, Seollal falls on February 1 of the Gregorian calendar. Seollal is a time for Koreans to return to their hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors, as well as catch up with family members. During Seollal, Koreans usually perform ancestral rites, play folk games, eat traditional foods, listen to stories and talk well into the night. Read on to discover how Koreans celebrate Seollal.

* Social distancing measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are expected to remain in place until Seollal; limited traveling is advised.

Before Seollal: Busy with preparations!

  •  People shopping at a market
  •  Traveling to their hometowns (right)

In Korea, the rush to prepare for Seollal begins days beforehand. Food is prepared in advance and people begin to purchase and package gifts for their parents and relatives. Another crucial part of preparing for Seollal for many people is making travel arrangements to visit their hometowns. There is a mad rush to book buses, trains, or plane tickets before they all sell out. Traveling during the holidays can take two to four times the normal travel time due to heavy traffic.

Recommended Seollal gifts!
Seollal gifts vary each year depending on economic situations and gift trends, but the most popular ones are department store gift cards and cash. Popular gifts for parents include ginseng, honey, health products, and massage chairs. Other common gifts include toiletry gift sets such as shampoo, soap, and toothpaste, or gift sets composed of Spam, tuna, hangwa (traditional sweets and cookies), dried or fresh seafood, hanu (Korean beef), and fruit.

The day of Seollal: New Year’s greeting and traditional games!

  • Children receiving gifts after greeting elders
  • Tteokguk eaten in the morning

The morning of Seollal begins with family members gathering in their seolbim (special clothing for Seollal) for an ancestral rite. The ritual is conducted to express respect and gratitude to one’s ancestors. Following the rite, the family eats the ritual food. The main dish of the day is tteokguk, a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, egg, vegetables, and other ingredients. In Korea, the clear broth and white rice cakes of tteokguk are believed to symbolize starting out the year with a clean mind and body.

After the meal, the younger generations of the family pay respect to their elders by taking a deep bow called sebae. Then, the elders offer their blessings and wishes for a prosperous year. Children often receive sebaetdon (New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift.

Traditional game to enjoy on Seollal, yunnori
Seollal is an opportunity for the entire family to engage in fun activities together. The most common activity is yunnori, a traditional board game. This game is so easy to learn that all family members, regardless of age, can enjoy playing. Yunnori is played by throwing four sticks and moving your game markers around the board depending on the number of up-facing sticks. Each team has four markers and the first team to get all four of their markers around the board wins.
Why is 2022 the year of the tiger?
Every year is represented by one of the twelve zodiac signs, which take the form of twelve guardian animal deities collectively known as Sibijisin. These signs change with every year, rotating over a 12-year cycle. In the past, it was widely believed that Sibijisin had an influence over one’s fate and character. These days, many Koreans check their yearly fortune horoscope just for fun by comparing their zodiac sign with the New Year’s zodiac sign.

The year 2022 is referred to as Iminnyeon (‘Im-‘ meaning black, and ‘-in’ meaning tiger) or “The Year of the Black Tiger.” The tiger, the third animal deity of the Sibijisin, is regarded as a sacred beast that wards off evil spirits. Black tiger is associated with strength, independence, challenge, and wisdom.
Traveling Tip!
During the Seollal holiday, the bustling city of Seoul becomes relatively quiet and peaceful, as many people leave the capital to return home or travel abroad. Streets become vacant, and many restaurants and shops close. However, recreational and cultural facilities such as amusement parks, national parks, and major palaces stay open to the public to present various events and traditional games for families. You might want to consider adjusting your travel dates if you are planning to visit other regions of Korea during the holiday period, as bus and train tickets are hard to come by and highways are heavily congested.
Shopping Tip!
During the Seollal holiday season (January 29 – February 2, 2022), most department stores and major shopping districts will stay closed for two days, especially on the day of Seollal (February 1, 2022) and the day before or after. (* Closed days and operating hours may vary depending on location and shop, so please check details prior to visiting.)

Recommended travel spots during the Seollal holiday

* Attractions may be closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We advise you to check details before visiting.

Recommended travel spots during the Seollal holiday
Namsangol Hanok Village Namsangol Hanok Village Gyeongbokgung Palace Gyeongbokgung Palace Lotte World Tower & Mall Lotte World Tower & Mall
Samcheongdong-gil Road Samcheongdonggil Road Seoul Museum of History Seoul Museum of History Starfield COEX Mall Starfield COEX Mall
The National Museum of Korea The National Museum of Korea Korean Folk Village Korean Folk Village Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon Changdeokgung Palace Complex
National Gugak Center National Gugak Center(Credit: National Gugak Center) Deoksugung Palace Deoksugung Palace Jongmyo Shrine Jongmyo Shrine
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) Seoul Arts Center Seoul Arts Center(Credit: Seoul Arts Center) Myeong-dong Myeong-dong

* This column was last updated in January 2022, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.

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