What is Seollal? The Korean New Year


Seollal is one of the most important holidays in South Korea because it is Korean New Year. However, Korean families celebrated Seollal all over the world. Let’s take a look at what Seollal is and what Koreans do to celebrate such a festive holiday. Other widely-celebrated holidays include chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving. 

What is Seollal?

Seollal is also known as Korean New Year and it is celebrated on the first day of the Korean calendar which also aligns with the Lunar calendar. This year, Seollal falls on Friday, February 12th. The purpose of Seollal is to reign in the new year as well as pay tributes to ancestors and spend time with family members. Typically, Seollal can last three days, beginning the day before and ending on the day after.

2021 is The Year of The White Ox. In Korea, they refer to it as Sinchungnyeon (‘Sin-‘ meaning white, and ‘-chuk’ meaning ox).  The ox is the second animal of the zodiac family and it represents property, honesty, and hardwood.

What do Koreans do on Seollal?

The most important part of the Seollal celebration is the ritual for ancestors. The ritual is called “charye” which involves the females of the household preparing food for the reverence and the males presenting the food to the ancestors. The final step of the ritual is referred to as “eumbok” where the entire household, male and female, gather to eat the food. This step allows ancestors to bless the household for the upcoming year. 


As mentioned above, Seollal is also about spending time with family. After a meal, children of the household will gather in front of elder members and bow. This act is called “sebae.” The young family members will also present gifts at sebae, typically wishes of good health for the new year. Female and male members have different ways they perform sebae, primarily in the way they bow down. Elder members also gift younger members with money, referred to as “sebeadon.” After they have received the sebaedon, the younger members will typically put it in a silk or cotton fortune pouch, “bokjumeoni,” with various good fortune symbols for safekeeping. 


Hanbok,” Korean traditional clothing, is also another crucial part of celebrating Seollal. In the morning, family members will put on their hanbok to perform sebae. Usually, the hanboks have bright and pretty colors to symbolize hope and good fortune for the new year. 

Some Korean traditions suggest that in the morning, people typically buy a bamboo strainer, also known as “bokjori.”  People use this strainer to wash rice before cooking it but people buy it on Seollal to hang it on their wall for good luck for the new year. Many people believe that if you buy the bokjori early enough, your fortune for the new year will be generous. 

What food do Koreans eat?

People prepare food for Seollal depending on the region they are from. However, the main components include rice, soup, meat or seafood, liquor, vegetables, and fruits. Rice cake soup, known as “tteoguk” is also commonly prepared on Seollal although it can be eaten at any time of the year. The soup can sometimes consist of rice cake, beef, egg, and vegetables. Tteoguk symbolizes piety and dignity for the new year. Family members eat tteoguk on the morning of Seollal to be one year older, similar to birthdays. 

Just like any other important holidays, family members can spend endless hours preparing food for charye and meals. The great thing is that the food makes great leftovers that families can enjoy well after the holiday. 

What games do Koreans play?

When it comes to celebrating the Korean New Year, we can’t leave out the games that Korean families play on this day. Two of the most popular games for Seollal are GoStop and Yut Nori. 

GoStop is a card game that families can bet money with. The deck consists of 48 cards that have 12 sets of 4 cards. Only 2 to 3 people can play it at a time. The players earn points by matching certain features of the cards in various combinations that have already been established. Most GoStop games take about 15 minutes long but can be extremely loud because Koreans believe yelling can increase their chances of winning.

Yut Nori has no limits for how many can play it at once. The object of the game is to be the first to finish the race using the four marked sticks in place of dice. Players are trying to get their horses, or “mals,” to the finish line first in order to win. 

South Korea during Seollal

During Seollal, prior to the global pandemic, South Korea was a hotspot for tourists and families returning from abroad. Many places, like local villages or royal palaces, often hold large celebrations for citizens and tourists to enjoy food and festivities. Seollal, or Korean New Year, is a great way to introduce Korean culture to foreigners and remind Koreans of home. 

To learn more on where to travel in Korea, watch the video below!

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