This is a very special time of year for Korean people! The Lunar Year celebration is, by tradition, an opportunity to reunite families and pay respect to their ancestors as well as celebrate the beginning of a new year. Known as “Seollal,” the Lunar Year falls on January 31 of the Gregorian calendar this year.
Family members travel great distances to be together. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of the population of Korea travels to visit their hometown! They dress in traditional clothing and enjoy traditional activities as they share in preparing and dining on traditional foods. As a part of the festivities, they also perform ancestral rites and participate in folk games and storytelling.
This New Year, 2014 is considered the Year of the Blue Horse. The Horse is one of the 12 Eastern zodiac signs, which are associated with guardian animal deities known as “Sibijisin” (literally, 12 gods of the earth). These signs change with every new year and rotate over a 12 year cycle (these guardian animals are also associated with 12 different periods during a day). Animals included in the Sibijisin deities are the mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig.
The horse is the seventh of these guardian animals and is a symbol of liveliness, quickness, health and intelligence. Blue is considered an auspicious color, and adds to the sense that it is a lucky year and encourages hope and anticipation over what this new year will bring.
The beginning of each lunar year is a time of celebration and according to Korean tradition
many people, especially the elders, have fun trying to determine their fortune by analyzing their birth year zodiac sign and its relationship to the New Year’s sign. Traditional activities encourage respect for ancestors and elders, family togetherness and positive actions for the new year.
Here’s a brief glossary that offers even more insight into the celebration that produces cherished memories for Koreans on this very special day:
: The traditional attire worn as Koreans begin the day.
: A variety of foods are prepared and offered in this special ceremony that honors the ancestors. After the ceremony, the food is shared for breakfast.
: After the Chareh ceremony, bows and a New Year’s greeting are offered to everyone, and grandparents and parents are honored. Bows offered by juniors to seniors are called “saebae.”
: A soup consisting of round rice cakes floating in a rich broth that represents “the bright sun rising on a New Year” that is served during the Chareh ceremony.
: Remarks that are complementary and wish others good fortune, prosperity and health which are shared throughout the day.
: A lively game for families and neighbors that that always elicits boisterous laughter for a great time together.