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Everything to know about South Korea’s Lunar New Year, Seollal

Find out everything about Seollal, Korea's Lunar New Year's Day, from customs to food and games, as summarised by HallyuSG.

Dayna Yam

| February 9, 2024
Seollal
South Koreans playing a traditional game Yut Nori on Lunar New Year’s Day (Seollal). Photo: Han Jeon

A new lunisolar calendar year is about to start as we usher in the Year of the Dragon.

This marks the start of Seollal in South Korea, a national holiday celebrating the first day of the lunisolar calendar. It is arguably one of the most important holidays in South Korea, spanning three days.

The term Seollal is derived from seol which translates to year of age, and nal which means day. Put simply, it directly translates to a day when Koreans grow a year older. But only after eating a bowl of tteokguk, a traditional rice-cake soup dish.

Read on to find out everything about the festival, from customs to food and games, as summarised by HallyuSG.

Customaries

During this holiday, most South Koreans would travel back to their hometown to visit their parents and pay respect to their ancestors.

However, the act of paying respect to ancestors, which is known as charye, is very much dependent on one’s religion. Often, traditional food is offered to ancestors, followed by a deep bow. This serves as a mark of respect for their ancestors and they will ask for their blessings for the rest of the year.

Koreans will typically be donned in a hanbok, a piece of traditional clothing reserved for special occasions. The rite is then followed by a feast.

Seollal
A couple donning the Hanbok, a traditional Korean piece of clothing. Photo: Vogue

They also demonstrate filial piety to their elders, wishing them a happy new year through a sebae ritual. Elders reward them by gifting them New Year’s money, sebaet don, packed in silk bags decorated with traditional designs, a practice similar to the giving of red packets locally.

Food

The main dish eaten during the festivities is tteokguk, a rice-cake dish typically in a beef broth, garnished with green onions, egg and meat.

Rice cakes are sliced into thin, oval shapes to resemble yeopjeon, a traditional Korean currency. Tteokguk carries much significance, as it marks one’s birthday in the lunisolar calendar, and symbolises a good start with great fortune to the new year.

Games

Families gather around to play yut nori, a traditional board game where players aim to be the first to reach the end. Movement is decided by throwing four marked sticks, instead of the usual dice in most games.

In recent years, another game GoStop has also gained popularity and involves money-betting. This game uses a deck of cards known as hwatu which means ‘battle of the flowers’. The cards are decorated with pictures of flowers and the game is played by matching these pictures in different combinations.

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