• Date: The date for the traditional Korean New Year which is known by the name of Seollal in the year 2016 is Monday, February 08.

  • Overview: Traditional Seollal celebrations last for three days – the day before the New Year, the actual New Year’s Day, and the day after that. Traditional Korean New Year is called Seollal, the date of which is calculated in accordance to the lunar based calendar system that existed in ancient Korea. However, Korean New Year celebrations encompass commemorating both the traditional lunar New Year as well as the modern day Gregorian New Year. Both the dates are celebrated with pomp and glory by the people of Korea. Among all the Traditional holidays that are celebrated by the Korean people. The traditional New Year or the Seollal celebrations are attached the most importance. This day is calculated on the basis of the cycle of the moon. Seollal is believed to commence on the second new moon that comes after the day on which the winter solstice takes place. However, there exist some exceptions to this rule, although very rarely such exceptions are required to be taken into account. This happens when there is an existence of an intercalary month (eleventh or twelfth) coming in between the days that lead up to the lunar New Year of Seollal. When such an anomaly takes place in the celestial world, then the lunar New Year is celebrated on the day of the third new moon day after the day of the winter solstice.

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  • Origin of traditional Korean New Year – Seollal or traditional Korean New Year celebrations go back to ancient times. Some of the ancient scriptures have mention of such observances. For example the Chinese literature records similar celebrations. The Book of Sui and also the Old Book of Tang both are potent with excerpts that speak about the traditional New Year celebrations based on the lunar calendar that took place in Silla, which is the ancient name of the kingdoms that now constitute Korea. Such mention is also found in the records of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1897), when it is believed that officials congregated in the Five Grand Palaces to mark the commemoration of the New Year.

  • Traditional Customs: Seollal is celebrated in the most traditional manner and often includes only the family members, relatives and a very close circle of friends. This is the time for people to unite with their family and friends. In modern times many people may have flown away from home for better opportunities, but when the time to celebrate Seollal comes, people head homewards. This is an exclusive family oriented celebration – however, by family we also mean extended family, in laws and close friends and associates. For the occasion people like to adorn the traditional Korean attire called Hanbok. However, these days some people prefer to wear formal western outfit for the occasion.

Now let is take a look as some of the traditional rites and rituals that make up the celebrations of Seollal –
  • Charye – In Korea, people believe that the traditional New Year is the time when one should pay visit to the homes of their ancestor or the house where the family resides. This is because of the fact that traditional Seollal customs involve rituals that are dedicated to the forefathers. This is the time when people seek blessings of the elders of the family, and also of the ancestors, living or dead, for a positive New Year ahead.

  • Rituals on Seollal’s Eve – There goes a traditional Korean belief that the departed souls come to the Earth on the eve of the traditional Korean New Year. The ghosts then try on various shoes and steal the one that fits them well. Now the person whose shoe gets stolen gets cursed with bad luck that stays for the entire year. This is why people hide their shoes well on the Seollal’s Eve. Some people even take their shoes to bed to avoid misfortune in the coming year.

  • First things to do on Seollal morning – Traditional Seollal celebrations include a variety of rituals that are rooted in various beliefs that have come down from times immemorial. One such belief or traditional involves buying a bokjori on the morning of Seollal. Bokjori is a strainer made of bamboo that is typically used to wash rice before it is cooked. This Bokjori is hung high on a wall inside the residence. This is believed to bring fortune and good luck. The earlier you buy the Bokjori the better your luck would be for the coming New Year.

  • Further rituals on Seollal morning

  • The morning of Seollal is always celebrated in a traditional manner when all the members of the family gather together dressed in their formal finery to pay tribute to the elders of the family, and also to the ancestors. This is how they believe they shall be blessed with good fortune and luck in the year to come.
  • Sebae -- Sebae is the custom by which the younger members of the family show respect to the elders by taking a deep bow before them and seek their blessings. The elders bless them luck and fortune for the coming year. Usually the younger ones also receive a sum of money from the elders enveloped in beautiful Korean silk bags.

  • Soju – This is a colorless alcohol that is made up of rice, wheat and barley, and is often an integral part of the Seollal celebrations. As per Korean traditions the elders in the family pass around glasses of this drink. Drinking soju is believed to drive away anything negative and bring in positivity and good health. The custom is never to fill soju glasses unless completely empty. Also as per traditions, no one fills their own glass – you have to fill glasses of someone else.

  • Tteokguk – This soup which is made up of rice cakes sliced into small pieces is considered an auspicious food item and as such is made a part of most traditional Korean celebrations including commemoration of Seollal.

  • Folk games – Traditional Korean New Year celebrations is a joyous one, and often people take part in various games to uphold this spirit of gaiety and festivity. Flying kites is rampant. Another common board game that is played for the occasion is Yunnori. Other games that are played include, gonggi, neolttwigi, jegichagi etc.