Asian Fangirl, Hallayu Wave Fandom

Lunar New Year in South Korea and Asia

One of the things I love about culture is how different we are… South Koreans are quite open to many traditions from the West including ringing in the solar new year on New Year’s Eve like many others all around the world.

In Seoul, they even have their very own “ball drop ceremony” at Bosingak Belfry, where a popular bell-ringing ceremony is made special on New Year’s Eve. The historical bell is struck 33 times at midnight to celebrate the coming of the New Year.

BUT South Koreans also celebrate the new year according to their lunar calendar… And next Friday, February 16, 2018 is South Korea’s official Lunar New Year of 2018. So come on in and learn about a unique holiday that is celebrated across Asia…

Korean Lanterns Banner

The Lunar New Year generally falls at the end of January or at the beginning of February, on the second new moon after winter solstice (but just look it up, the internet knows the exact day!) South Koreans call is Seollal (설날 – Lunar New Year’s) and celebrate for 3-days with a public holiday. It is a time for family members and relatives to get together to celebrate. The tradition originated with the Chinese but was adapted with Korean’s own traditions since that time.

Return to their home towns.

Many Koreans live and work in Seoul but grew up outside the city. In either case, this is the time of year they return to their family homes to spend time with parents, siblings and extended relatives. They greet each other with “Please receive good fortune for the New Year” (새해 복 많이 받으세요) and take this togetherness as an opportunity to honor ancestors and family that has passed on. Any spare time is spent visiting extended family and those they were close to when they were young.

Formally bow to their Elders.

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Called sebae (세배), this deep formal bow to the floor is for the young generations to honor one’s elders, particularly parents, grandparents or both. In return, the adults gift the children with small amounts of spending money. Koreans traditionally put this money in silk pouches, but mainly just hand it out to the kids. This moment is to exchange New Year’s wishes and blessings of good health and fortune.

Dress in traditional Korean garb.

Seollal used to be a time when one would receive new clothes so wearing hanbok, or traditional garb, is a fun and cheery way to celebrate major holidays. A historical garb of the past; you’ll see hanbok in historical dramas all the time. My banner above is a girl in hanbok. These costumes are made out of silk and consist of several layers. Most modern Koreans rent these in shops just for the purpose since children easily grow out of them and they aren’t needed but a few times a year.

Perform ancestral memorial ceremony.

Formal memorial services (called Charye, 차례) are held twice a year: one of them on the day of Seollal in honor of their ancestors. The day before the family prepares specific foods for the charye, an altar like table, at which they perform the ceremony.  Each person bows before the table in sebae and offers a drink to the spirits. After the ceremony is complete everyone shares in the feast! You’ll see a miniature version of this on dramas all the time, many times, with a photo because they are honoring a specific passed family member.

At Taste of Korea on February 1st, 2011, Bann restaurant played host to a family-style Korean New Year’s lunch in Midtown. Working with the Korean Food Foundation to promote Korean cuisine here in the States, the event served traditional favorites like Tteokguk, a rich beef broth topped with ribbons of egg, seaweed and tender medallions of Korean rice cakes.

Now for the best part… the FOOD! The go to for the Seollal charye is tteokguk, rice cake soup. Koreans LOVE rice cakes and they represent a clean start and new beginning for the New Year. As this is the universal birthday for Koreans many times there are rituals attached to eating this soup at the New Year.

There is also galbijjim, braised short ribs (I’ve heard of these mentioned in dramas!) as well as jeon, a Korean pancake with chopped vegetables and japchae, sweet potato noodles. It is quite the spread! Some modern Koreans are adding fast food which they like to eat to tempt the spirits, either way it is a way to bond with those that came before.

YOU can participate too!

There are actually quite a few ways you can become involved with Lunar New Years and it doesn’t have to just be the Korean way! Most Asians get together with family and close friends during this time of year and share a feast.

  • You can host your own party! I even have a family of chefs who can help you out, from The Woks of Life: A Big “Fat” Chinese New Year Menu for All Skill Levels.

  • Or you can find the Korea or China “town” in your area and partake in their festivities.


  • It’s all about celebrating family so you can send your parents a video with a heartfelt message wishing them a healthy and happy year.

Whatever you do share the love!

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Do you like sharing in other culture’s traditions?!

Actually China also does similar but different traditions in their neck of the woods and I’ve also gotten to witness it in Chinese dramas (which is fun!) I had to go with Korean traditions though because come on the hanbok is just too beautiful… and what a lure to watch a historical k-drama: For Historical Fiction Lovers… the Sageuk Genre! (I had to get my k-drama plug in there somehow…) 😉

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Thanks for Reading XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Lunar New Year in South Korea and Asia”

  1. Hello Dani ❤
    It is so interesting to read about how South Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year. To be honest, I thought that it was just a Chinese thing haha 🙂 That is awesome that the Koreans have their own way of celebrating this day.
    My family and I have a smaller and more casual way of celebrating the New Year. Usually we have a special family meal at home. Then we Skype our extended family who are in China 🙂 Oh, and of course there is money exchanged (it's called a red pocket) 🙂 🙂

    1. That’s so cool Sophie! I don’t suppose you can go back to China every year at the same time. It’s amazing how close your traditions are to Koreans! Though I suspect it is the other way around and theirs are close to the Chinese. I think the practice of the red pocket is one I could definitely back 😉

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