It’s Soellal – Lunar New Year today. So it’s time to wish each other good fortune for the coming year 새해 복 많이 받으세요! sehe bok mani baduseyo! (There’s a short video here on how to pronounce this New Year greeting.)
Scene from New Tales of Gisaeng (SBS 2011)
Many people will be spending a lot of time in traffic jams this weekend but luckily we won’t have to since my in-laws live in Seoul. But I know people who had to get up at 3 am yesterday morning to start their journey home to avoid the traffic.
Four Things to Do at Lunar New Year
1. Buy New Year Gift Sets
This is one of the quietest times of the year in Seoul as many people head out of the city to visit friends and family elsewhere. And lots of shops are shut too. Even Lotte Supermarket was closed today! 😮 (And on my way home after visiting our in-laws I realised that we have run out of rice. So that was bad timing!) But yesterday the department stores were in full swing trying hard to sell the remainder of their New Year gift sets – a box set of fruit can cost as much as 300,000 won. For FRUIT. It must be ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR fruit for that price, surely.
picture English Chosun
2. Do Lots of Cooking
Most of the cooking is done the day before New Year’s Day (i.e yesterday) as New Year is celebrated at breakfast. It seems that the cooking is still mostly done by women (while the men lounge around drinking and watching TV grrrrr.) so it’s not surprising that when I ask a class of married female students (keyword is ‘married‘) if they are looking forward to Soellal, they just gaze back at me glumly and shake their heads! Buddhist families (that’s us ) carry out ancestral rites by laying out all the food on a table as an offering and then bowing to the ancestors. The table looks similar to Chuseok but there is no songpyeon (rice cakes with a sweet filling). Instead it’s traditional to eat dokgeuk rice cake soup in the morning.
This scene from the well-known historical foodie drama Dae Jang Geum, (MBC 2003) shows palace cook Jang Geum preparing a dish while her teacher stands beside her observing her. But I wonder if this scene also reflects the mood of many Korean wives spending the holidays cooking with their mother-in-laws? (this is not the mood in our house of course 😉 )
picture still from Dae Jang Geum (MBC 2003)
3. Sebae – bow to the elders
Another essential part of New Year – (ideally wearing a hanbok) younger people bow to their elders and wish them good fortune for the new year. (Kids are given money too, lucky things.) I keep forgetting how to do the bow – is it left hand over right, or the other way around? I usually just muddle through – But here it shows how to do the sebae bow PROPERLY
4. Play Yut
So after all the cooking and eating and washing up and bowing is done, it’s time to just chill out with the family. There’s lots of New Year TV shows on today (No Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Wizard of Oz though …) The shows seem to involve lots of celebrities wearing hanboks singing and chatting and having fun. As well as watching TV we sometimes play Yut – a game which involves throwing four pieces of wood and then moving your counters around a board. (probably more fun than I just made it sound) Then it’s time to head home with a doggy bag full of New Year leftovers!