When we lived in S. Korea, it seemed that when the Lunar New Year came around, everyone was on the roads headed for their parents and grandparent’s house. Everyone who could didn’t go to work for at least two weeks or more. It is the biggest holiday of the year next to Chuseok in S. Korea. They also celebrate the Lunar new Year in China, so many Americans call it “the Chinese New Year,” but technically, it is the Lunar New Year, and I have heard many countries in the east celebrate it.
The Lunar Calendar is the old calendar of the east based on the moon. When the Gregorian calendar that we use that a Catholic pope made began being used, the Japanese threw the Lunar calendar away and went straight for the new calendar forgetting about the Lunar calendar all together. However, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, and many other countries kept the Lunar calendar along with the Gregorian calendar. Most countries around the world use the Gregorian calendar now. Some replaced their original calendars, and some use both their old traditional calendars and the Gregorian calendar.
In Korea, most of their calendars register both the Gregorian date and the Lunar date. Even on my cell phone I still use from S. Korea, it tells both calendar dates. Today is January 26th on the Gregorian calendar, and January 2nd on the Lunar Calendar, and my Korean cell phone registers both.
In Korea, on the Lunar New Year, it is like everyone in the whole country having a birthday at the same time. My Korean son in law’s father told me that he doesn’t celebrate his birthday on the day of his birthday, but on the Lunar New Year. On the Lunar New Year, everyone in Korea is considered one year older. The younger ones like my son in law are the only ones who celebrate their birthdays on the day they were born. All babies in Korea a considered one year old when they were born, and when the new year comes, they are a year older, even if they were born on the last day of the old year. A new born baby can be considered two years old in Korea.
The Koreans and Chinese trek to their parents or grandparents house. In S. Korea the whole country becomes one big traffic jam, and it takes forever to get there. The traffic jams are even out in the country, not just the cities. I have watched the Chinese on TV from S. Korea where the trains, buses, and subways are just downright packed! There is usually snow all over the ground that often slows the traffic in China. Sometimes there is snow in S. Korea, but not for every New Year.
In Korea, everyone dresses in the traditional clothing for 서랄(Seolal), what the call the New Year. The greeting for “Happy New year!” is 세헤 복핞이 받드세요. (seh-heh bok mahn-nee baht-oo-seyo). There is lots of good food and games.
We have played one of these games with them many times. It is called Yut Nori (윷노리). It is a board game also using four sticks that you toss into the air to know how your game piece moves. There are symbols on the sticks that show how far you can move or if you have to go back by how they land. Everyone likes to play, so there are usually lots of players that need to be divided into teams. Often, they sell just the sticks and not the board or game pieces. If they just have the sticks, they can play. They draw the game on a piece of paper and use coins and things like that as game pieces.
The children bow to their grandparents and receive money bags from their grandparents. It is like Christmas! Even though the Japanese celebrate the New Year on the Gregorian calendar, a lot of their traditions are the same. My Japanese son in law loves to talk about how much he looked forward to those money bags his grandparents gave him every year, like children from other countries excited about the Christmas presents under the tree.
On Seolal (the Lunar New Year), the Koreans give more gifts than the money for the kids. Their best friends and family members will get other kinds of gifts. I went through e-mart and took pictures of their gifts once and wrote a blog about it if you want to look back through my blog and see some of them. They don’t give gifts like people from other countries. They give things like bottles of shampoo, bottles of cooking oil, toilet paper, etc. They will all be put in fancy gift boxes. Often, there is a meaning behind the gifts they give. If they give you oil, they wish you were rich. If they give you toilet paper, they are wishing you a long life. There are many meanings behind their gifts, but I don’t know all of them.
None of their cakes are particularly sweet, but they are good. Some of them are just white sticky rice with nuts and dried peas added and made into the shape of a small cake. Some are spun sugar. Others, the one in the middle of the dish above, are made from glutinous rice flour and water mixed together and boiled in water. They call these “dock.” They fill them with several different things like sweet beans, ground up nuts, etc. All their cakes are good and worth trying.
If you look at the picture above, first look at the background. This is a kind of room divider with pictures on it. The pictures are all in black and white because those the traditional colors the Koreans use for traditional pictures, fans, etc. There are lots of mountains because Korea is the most mountainous country in the world. If you look at the food, this is how the Koreans like to eat. There is lots of fruit on the table. Koreans are really into health. If you look in the front on the left side, first you will see boiled sweet potatoes that are very popular in Korea. Next, you can see some round fruit you probably don’t recognize. They are pears. Yes, Korean pears are round, not pear shaped. They are larger than pears most of us are used to, and they last much longer than the pears we know. You can put pears in your fridge and forget about them, and several weeks later, they are still good to eat and haven’t gotten soft and over ripe at all. If you look on the right side of the table in the front , you will see apples. Korean apples are also bigger than most apples in the world. In Korea, you can’t just pick up an apple and eat it alone because it will be too much. They usually cut one up and share it with a group. Left of the apples, you can see the tiny tangerines from Jeju Island, the Island immediately south of the peninsula. The Koreans love these! They are always eating them. Korean children don’t give apples to their teachers, but tangerines for Jesu. If you go on a bus trip with friends, probably someone will bring a big bunch of tangerines and give them out to treat everyone. If you go for a hospital visit in Korean, you take the person in the hospital tangerines. The tangerines are everywhere, and they all come from Jeju island.
As I was looking for pictures of Seolal (the Korean Lunar New Year), I ran across the picture above. Everyone doesn’t wear masks like these, but many might. “Cute” is an important part of the Korean culture. My students at the university were always dressing up as some cute animal or something. They have a special way of talking in Korean if they want people to think they are cute. They also began what they call “eigyo.” “Eigyo” is cute little signs they use with their hands. If you have seen people putting their hands or arms in the shape of a heart when their picture is taken, this came from Korea. It is part of “eigyo.” The picture above looks like it was taken at Lotte World, the Korean Disney World.
Since I am not technically part of a Korean family, I was only invited to a Seolal (New Year) celebration at the American missionary’s house who was married to a Korean. I have actually played Yut Nori many times, and at the missionary’s house was one of the times, but I haven’t played all the Korean Seolal games because Koreans make Seolal only about family. My daughter is now part of a Korean family, and her Korean mother in law always drives her crazy wanting her to wear her hanbok for all the occasions like Seolal (Lunar New Year). My daughter considers the hanbok (Korean traditional clothes) pretty, but inconvenient, and her mother in law didn’t always wear her hanbok. The hanbok, though, is much less inconvenient than the Japanese kimono because I have both and have worn both for special occasions.
This dragon is the symbols Americans think of when they think of the Lunar New Year, and they call it the Chinese New Year. However, only the Chinese have the dragon like this for the Lunar New Year, not the Koreans, and many countries in the orient celebrate this holiday, not just the Chinese. It is the largest holiday next to Chuseok in Korea. Chuseok, they like to compare to the American Thanksgiving.