Korean Lunar New Year Traditions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: early 50s
Occupation: housewife
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

This is a summary of lunar new year traditions in Korea that my mom told me about.

Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar so it’s either late January or February. It changes every year based on when January 1st is on the lunar calendar. It is called ‘Seol-lal”. In Korea, you eat rice-cake soup because it is believed that you get a year older when you have the rice-cake soup. There are also other foods, like savoury Korean pancakes and meat dishes like bulgogi or galbi. Traditionally, meat was expensive and rare, so it was a saved for special celebrations like new year.

Children also do “sebae” to elders, which is a traditional Korean bow reserved for new year. It is done out of respect and to wish them luck in the new year. In return, elders give them money along with words of wisdom. The words of wisdom often wish them well on their studies and work.

Traditionally, people used to wear “hanbok” a traditional Korean clothing but it’s less common now except for young children or newlyweds.

Background:

I knew about Korean Lunar New Year celebrations from participating in them myself, but I thought I’d ask my mom about it to see if she had any insights to why we eat what we do and any reasons for celebrating with sebae.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Lunar New Year differently.

Thoughts:

Having spent a part of my life in Hong Kong, where lunar new year traditions are very different, I always stuck to Korean traditions with my family. I think it’s fascinating that different cultures celebrate it differently, even though it’s at the same time of the year. I haven’t been able to celebrate with the whole family in the past few years since I wasn’t home in Korea, but I still try to eat rice-cake soup if I can. If not on lunar new year, I’ll try to eat it on new year, like January 1st. For some reason, most Korean restaurants in the US are open during New Years while other restaurants are closed.