KOREAN CULTURE | How Seollal [설날] is performed

Thursday, 16 February 2017



















As promised in my New year update post, I said I was going to write about how Seollal is celebrated.

새해  많이 받으세요 = Please receive a lot of luck or blessings in the New Year

Seollal~설날 is the most celebrated holiday in South Korea, the second being Chuseok
추석which is the harvest festival. Seollal is not only a celebration of the coming in of a new year but an opportunity for families to come together from far and near, catch up with each other and enjoy sumptuous meals and activities. It is also a time to pay respects to ancestors and visit their grave sites.


Seollal's celebration lasts for three days, starting the day before and ending the day after the Lunar New Year. The actual Seollal is the first day of the second new moon after winter solstice. The exact day will vary from year to year. There is a folktale that the night before Seollal, ghosts visit houses to steal your shoes and if that happens, it means you will have bad luck all year round, therefore people hide their shoes before going to bed.

On the day people get up early and put on new clothes known as Seolbim~설빔 this could be the traditional Korean attire known as Hanbok or western clothing. The house of the eldest male member of the family is usually where the family gathers for the celebration.




According to the Korean tradition, in the morning of Seollal, people buy Bokjori (복조리 – bamboo strainer used for washing rice before cooking) and hang it high on a wall in the house to bring good luck and fortune. So people do not haggle for the price of the Bukjori and it is believed that the earlier one buys the Bokjori, the larger fortune it will bring.


The first day of the celebration begins with Charye~차례 Ancestral Rites. This is a memorial service that prays for the peace and good health of the ancestors. Everyone will then gather in front of a table prepared for the ancestral rite consisting of varying dishes depending on region but along the same theme. 




The basic food found on the table include Tteokguk~떡국rice cake soupmeat, seafood, liquor, rice, fruit and vegetables. The ceremony will begin with deep bows to greet the ancestors. At the end of the rite, the ritual food, called Eumbok~음복 is shared; this passes the hopes and virtues of the ancestors to those who partake.

It is tradition to eat Tteokguk on Seollal, this dish represents  piety, dignity and the new year.  It is a soup made of thinly sliced white tteok ( – rice cake), beef, egg and vegetables. It is believed that one gets one year older by eating a bowl of tteokguk, hence the concept of a "Korean age".

People like to ask each other how many bowls of tteokguk they have eaten and joke about the number of years that they will get old.  So, although tteokguk is tasty, don’t eat more than one bowl cos otherwise you will get old very quickly! 

Children are especially excited to eat tteokguk because consuming a bowl marks a person’s Lunar Calendar Birthday, with some getting excited to eat as many bowls as possible to grow older quicker LOL.
                                                                                                                        


After the meal, the kids (or any young family member) perform a New Year’s bow which is Sebae~세뱃, to an elder family member in exchange for blessings and Sebaedon~세뱃돈– New Year’s money in new banknotes. The bow differs depending on whether you are male or female. All the Sebaedon received is then put into a fortune pouch called a Bokjumeoni~복주머니 which is a fortune pouch made out of drawstring silk or cotton and embroidered with various auspicious symbols that are believed to bring fortune.

In some families, after the meal they visit the gravesite of their ancestors and pray to them. 

With all the cermeonies of the day out of the way, families and neighbours gather in the community to play some folkgames specific to Seollal. these games include Tuho, Jegichagi, Yutnori, Neolttwigi, Gongginori and so on. Here is a few details about some of them.













놀이 Yutnori:  This is a popular game that involves the use of 4 wooden sticks, tokens, and a simple game board. This strategy game has been a part of Seollal for hundreds of years and there is no limit to the number of players. For all intents and purposes, Yut Nori is a race to the finish based on the throwing of four marked sticks instead of dice to determine movement. The object is for each team to get its four “Mals” or horses back to and past the finish line, which is also the starting line. Yut Nori is often played as a "first to 3 wins” game but the rules are malleable and the number of wins, players, and special or “house” rules is really up to the participants.



제기차기 Jegichagi: This is a game involving kicking a badminton shuttlecock-like object, similar to hacky-sack a hacky-sack type game. It requires the use of people's foot and Jegi, an object used to play jegichagi. Jegi looks like a badminton shuttlecock, which is made of a small coin (quarter size), paper, or cloth. the player kicks a jegi up in the air and keeps on kicking to prevent from falling to the ground. 


In a one-to-one game, a player with the most number of consecutive kicks wins. In a group game, the players stand in a circle, and take turns kicking the Jegi. Players who fail to kick the Jegi upon receiving it and let it drop to the ground lose. As a penalty, the loser tosses the jegi at the winner so that he can kick it as he wishes. When the loser catches the jegi back with his hands, the penalty ends and he can rejoin the game. There are some health benefits to this game which include: Improves leg's muscular strength, Improves agility, Improves concentration, Prevents obesity, Improves patience and stamina.



투호  Tuho: This is also known as Arrow pitching. It is a traditional East Asian game that requires players to throw sticks from a set distance into a large, sometimes ornate, canister. The player with most number of points from putting the arrow into the canister, wins.

Photo credit: Korean Bapsang and Hancinema.

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안녕,


         Meera
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