All about New Year Celebration in Korea: Seollal

Woah! 2016 is almost gone and over. It is time to wrap up the bygone year, and wait for the coming year. My last article was about K-pop Christmas music. After the Christmas season ends, we start to feel that it is really the end of the year. Do you have plans for the upcoming year? How are you planning to spend the day of the New Year? Today’s article will be about how Koreans celebrate New Year.

First of all, we need to know that there are two ways to call the new year. According to the Gregorian calendar, the first of January is the new year. Before the midnight of the first of January every year, Korean people watch ringing of the watch-night bell (제야의 종) at Boshingak (보신각). Having its root in the Buddhist culture, watch-night bell that rings 33 times is a symbol of awakening. Then it is the start of the new year. However, January 1st is not the only day to celebrate the new year. For Koreans, and most other East Asians, lunar’s new year has the same or more importance as the solar calendar’s new year.


In the morning of the lunar’s new year, families prepare for an ancestral rite called Charye(차례). Usually, family members dress up with hanbok or other formal clothes, and prepare traditional foods to be served on the service table. When everything is set, the rite begins with deep bows as greetings to the ancestor spirits. People bid for bless and fortune for the coming year. The whole ritual is usually conducted by the oldest or the first-born of the family. Nowdays, many prefers to celebrate Seollal (설날) excluding the Charye ritual, since it is very time-consuming and exhausting, especially for women. However, it is still considered as a part of valuable traditions by Koreans.


Just as Songpyun(송편) is a representative food for Chuseok(추석), tteok-guk (떡국-rice cake soup) is the first meal of the day Koreans have in celebration of a new beginning and in the hopes of longevity and good health. Eating tteok-guk means you are “eating” one age, so become one year older. If you would like to stay younger, avoid eating tteok-guk :-0



How to do Sebae (세배) (for female and male) (Source:

For Koreans, Seollal is more than just a time for paying respect to ancestors. It is also a time for catching up with family members. Especially on Seollal, children show respect and love to their parents and grandparents by bowing down. The activity is called Sebae (세배). Parents give their sons and daughters some comments and advice on how they should live for the coming year. Usually, parents give some money to younger relatives, thus Seollal is also a day to accumulate budget for children but, for adults, a day for expenditure.


Besides tteok-guk and sebae, there are some more special activities for Seollal. One of the famous traditional games played during Seollal is Yutnori (윷놀이). To play Yutnori, a game board, markers, and four wooden sticks that look like the photo above are needed. You can move your marker according to the position of the faces of the wooden sticks. If only one of the four wooden sticks is facing down, you can move one step. If all the wooden sticks are facing down, you can move 5 steps, and get to throw them one more time. This is a game all ages from all generations can enjoy together.


In 2017, the new year will be on January 28th, which is Saturday. Koreans enjoy three-day holidays, including the day before and after. I hope your new year be filled with wishful thoughts and wills!

새해 복 많이 받으세요!




Article by Sangeun from Korea, a Junior in Business Administration

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