Korean New Year: Rice Cake Soup

“Well, New Year’s is pretty similar to I think Chinese New Year, and it’s like a mix of Chinese New Year and American New Year. Um, but…we have this soup and it’s uh, it’s a rice cake soup? And um basically it’s like you have meat and rice cakes in it and um, it’s like…every bowl of soup you consume means you’re like growing that much older. So that’s kinda like a thing where you eat like tons of that soup on New Year’s. And…it’s like custom to eat it, it’s kinda rude not to. Cuz then you’d be saying like oh this New Year’s not gonna be any different, or something. Eating that soup would signify that you’re growing older, like you’re maturing. Like you’re ready to have a fresh new year. And it’s like really good. And that’s basically the custom, I guess. It’s pretty much my mom makes it, but in most families it’s like homemade. And like if you go to church on New Year’s and stuff, that would be like what they serve for lunch or whatever. Yeah, it’s been around forever.”

When asked about Korean New Year traditions, my informant immediately thought of food as the primary marker of this celebration. She says the soup is very easy to make, just a simple mixture of meat, rice cakes, and broth. The simplicity means almost everyone would be able to make and afford this soup during New Year’s. The ritual of drinking as much soup as possible to signify growth and long life is reminiscent of the common tradition of drinking champagne on New Year’s, as a symbol of future wealth. Of course, there is nothing wrong with abstaining from champagne during a New Year celebration, whereas in this instance it is a breach of social conduct to refuse the soup. My informant almost made it sound like it would bring bad luck not to drink the soup, which I took as a sign that this is a very ingrained tradition.