Koreans and Lunar New Year

To the northeast of China, Lunar New Year celebrations in Korea are generally similar.  Early in the morning of New Year’s Day (soellal in Korean,) each family hangs a bok-jo-ri—a strainer made of straw—on the wall, in hope of scooping up many blessings for the family.   Everyone, particularly little children, dresses in traditional solbim that is made of fabrics with five festive colors—red, blue, white, green, and gold.  The younger generation perform a memorial rite of bowing called charye to honor their ancestors and sebae to wish their elders good health and longevitiy.

The Koreans also consider the new year as a time to add one’s age, although they do so on the first day.  Everyone customarily eats a bowl of rice cake soup (tt?kkuk) and drinks some rice punch (shikyhe.)   After this ritual and throughout the next 15 days, family members and friends visit one another and reconnect over food, drinks, and games.  On daeborum–the 15th of January as well as the first full moon of the year–everyone eats a certain number of peanuts, chestnuts or walnuts that is equivalent to his/her age.  The belief is to celebrate one’s life as well as to stay healthy in the coming year.  A  commonly prepared dish eaten on the day of daeborum is glutinous rice cooked with millet, red beans, sorghum and large beans called okokhap.  Believed to protect one’s health throughout the year, it is usually eaten with nine different types of vegetables dried in the previous autumn.

New Year time is game time in Korea. Unlike many U.S. Americans who would enjoy watch NFL, Koreans of all generations actually participate in both indoor and outdoor games.  Men and boys fly kites while women and girls jump on see-saw like boards called neol-ttwigi. Other popular games are yut-nori (a board game), gonginolei–a fun game that uses five gonggi, and spinning paengi.

Similar to their Chinese neighbors, Koreans also travel back to their hometown for the joyous celebration as well as to pay respect to their parents and ancestors.  Next week we will visit Vietnam located to the southwest of China.

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