Korea Traditional Culture
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 10 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.
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!
The morning of Seollal begins with family members gathering in their seolbim (new clothes received 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.
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.
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 2024 is referred to as Gamjinnyeon (‘gam-’ meaning blue, and ‘-jin’ meaning dragon) or “The Year of the Blue Dragon.” Observant readers may have noticed the VISITKOREA logo features a small blue dragon in celebration of Seollal!
This year’s Seollal holiday period is February 9-12. While most Koreans will be gathering with their families, there are many special exhibitions, performances, and events taking place during the holiday period for people to enjoy.
In Seoul, the National Museum of Korea’s “Find the Blue Dragon” event introduces 15 exhibition items related to dragons. The National Museums in Gyeongju, Jeonju, Cheongju, and Daegu will each offer traditional folk games and craft experiences, writing wish postcards, trying on hanbok, and other cultural events related to Seollal. Seoul’s four major palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung) and Jongmyo Shrine will also be open for free during the four-day holiday period.
|Namsangol Hanok Village
|Lotte World Tower & Mall
|Seoul Museum of History
|Starfield COEX Mall
|The National Museum of Korea
|Korean Folk Village / (Credit: Korean Folk Village)
|Changdeokgung Palace Complex
|National Gugak Center / (Credit: National Gugak Center)
|Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
|Seoul Arts Center / (Credit: Seoul Arts Center)
* This column was last updated in January 2024, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.