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계묘년: Korean Way of Greeting in the New Year
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계묘년: Korean Way of Greeting in the New Year

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Happy year of the black rabbit from Studio Kō.

“계묘년 새해 복 많이 받으세요".

While many people worldwide have already celebrated the new year on January 1st, many Asian countries are still anticipating this weekend to ring in the new year. Following the lunar calendar, Seol Nal is observed on January 22nd this year. From the 21st of January to the 24th, Koreans will enjoy their time with friends, family, and loved ones. Similar to the Korean Thanksgiving Chuseok, Korea recognizes Lunar New Year as one of the country’s biggest holidays, along with other East Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. Here’s a brief introduction to Korean traditional rituals for Lunar New Year. 

설날- Seol Nal

Seol Nal is the word that is used to describe new years day in Korea. Although there are many theories for the meaning of this word, many believe that Seol Nal derives from two words, 낯설다 (Nat-seol-da) and 날 (Nal). Nat-seol-da means something strange or unfamiliar, and nal means day in Korean. Combined together, Seol Nal describes the greeting of the unfamiliar yet exciting new day of the new year. The exact date when Koreans recognized Seol Nal is unknown, but artifacts dating back to Goryeo Dynasty prove that Koreans celebrated Seol Nal for over 1000 years.

Being the nation’s biggest celebration, Seol Nal also is a holiday that marks the start of a new beginning. Koreans observe Seol Nal in many different ways, such as going to watch the sunrise or going on vacation with loved ones. The most common way people spend Seol Nal is by visiting families, honoring the ancestors and elders, and eating a new year’s special dish called 떡국 (tteok-guk). 

Ibi, founder of Studio Kō and her cousins

차례 - Cha Rae 

The morning of Seol Nal starts with an ancestral rite called Cha-Rae. Similar to Jaesa performed during Chuseok, Cha Rae honors the passed ancestors with food and alcohol, asking them to protect and bless the new year to come. 

Here is a past post about Chuseok. Read to learn more about Jesa/Cha-Rae. The Biggest difference between the two would be that Chuseok Jesa rituals are performed to wish for an abundant harvesting season, while Seol Nal’s Cha Rae is done to be blessed for the new year. 

Eok Yeong Lee, 1981

세배 - Sae Bae 

After showing respect to their passed ancestors, kids and young adults gather around to bow to the parents and grandparents of the family. When the children bow as a sign of honor, the adults bless them with a word of blessing along with some spending money. This tradition is called Sae-bae (세배) and the money received from the bowing is called Sae-baet-don (세뱃돈). When bowing children often wear hanbok, which is traditional Korean clothing, and hold onto a pouch called Bok-joo-meo-ni (복주머니). Translated into the pouch of blessing, bok-joo-meo-ni is where the children store the sae-baet-don. 

떡국- Tteok-guk 

After a busy morning of bowing and honoring, Korean families gather around the table to share a significant new year’s dish. Tteok-Guk. Also known as rice cake soup, Tteok-guk is made with white beef broth and topped with circularly sliced Korean rice cakes. Many Koreans believe you become a year older when you eat a bowl of tteok-guk. The white broth signifies health and a bright future, while the sliced rice cakes represent the longevity of life and the blessing of riches. 

—> Here is an easy Tteok-guk recipe you can follow along with ingredients you can find at a local grocery store. If you can’t find the particular beef broth used in the recipe, you can use any type of bone broth instead. 

Games and Fun 

While the main goal of Seol Nal is to bless the new year and wish good luck to each other, another function of Seol Nal is to allow families to gather and enjoy each other’s company. So after a big conversive meal, people often play Korean traditional games such as Yut-nori (윷놀이) or Neol-ttwee-gui (널뛰기) which is a Korean-style seesaw game. Nowadays, it is rare to find people playing these traditional games, but family members still cherish the time they spend with one another on this special holiday.

Among the twelve Chinese zodica signs, the black rabbit represents an animal with abundaunt blessings and great wisdom. We hope that in 2023, Studio Kō and our customers will have a prosperous year! 

We wish the best this new years, 새해 복 많이 받으세요!