What are some Korean folk customs at Lunar New Year?

This year it’s my year, the year of the DOG.

new year spam set

These days at Lunar New Year, gift sets of Spam are flying off the shelves. But in the past, you might have been more concerned with finding a sieve to hang outside on your wall to stop the nocturnal ghosts getting into your house and stealing your shoes!

When everyone was busy getting ready for the morning ceremony, the ghosts (called ya-gwang-gwui 야광귀) could sneak into the home undetected. It doesn’t sound too dreadful until you hear that if the ghost managed to run away in your shoes, you would have bad luck for the whole year!

So what was the point of the sieve? According to the Encyclopaedia of Korean Seasonal Customs, the ghosts got distracted by the sieve when they started counting all the holes!


picture: Encyclopaedia of Korean Folk Culture 

Another folk custom was fortune telling by animal sounds (cheong-cham청참)

The first animal sound you heard on Lunar New Year’s morning would predict the year’s fortune. Hearing a magpie was lucky, but a crow was unlucky. There were different beliefs around the country. In Jeolla, in the south, the sound of a dog barking predicted a coming theft, (which doesn’t sound very auspicious.)

The first 12 days of the Lunar New Year are known as the Twelve Zodiac Days (sib-i-ji-il 십이지일, ). Each day is represented by one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals –  rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The animals are divided into two groups, one group of auspicious furry animals and the other of the unlucky furless animals (thankfully there are only two furless animals – dragon and snake).

Traditionally there were various do’s and don’ts to consider for each of the 12 days. So for goodness sake, ‘DON’T COMB YOUR HAIR ON SNAKE DAY’. (If you take nothing else away from this post, just try to remember that.)



In the past, the animals were also used to tell the time. Each of the twelve animals represented two hours of the day. The hour of the dog was 7:00pm- 9:00pm since this was the time when it was dark outside and the dog began to protect its home.

We can see this way of telling the time in Korean historical dramas. Someone might say, ‘let’s meet at the hour of the dog’. And everyone else in the drama knows what that means. But the viewers don’t, so we get a nice subtitle at the bottom of the TV screen explaining what time that is in modern language! Read more about telling the time in the past here.



picture Joongang Daily

During the Joseon period the king and his court exchanged paintings at the new year called sehwa. The custom spread down through the ranks to the ordinary people but stopped when printing took over. The custom seems to have died out, but here’s an article about a contemporary sehwa painter.

So what doggy stuff can we buy this year? 

There are now over 10 million pets in Korea and the number is expected to double by 2020.  And I have to say that over the past few years I’ve really noticed a lot more furry friends around. Not to mention a dramatic increase in pet accessory sections in the department stores and vets and pet salons everywhere.

So products with dog images are popular too. How about a face mask from Korean cosmetics shop Innisfree? There are 5 different dogs – Siberian husky, Dachshund, chihuahua, pug,  beagle – only available for a limited period in January and February to celebrate the new year!

year of the dog 2018

At first I wondered if My real pet mask was supposed to be for my pet. After all, you can buy all sorts of weird products for pets. But on closer inspection it appears that it is for humans.

The face pack itself looks like a dog’s face! Since Siberian Huskies have to pull sledges in the cold, the face pack’s purpose is for moisturising dry skin. The Dachshund mask is for brightening. The Chihuahua mask is for nourishing, the pug mask is a firming mask, and the beagle is ‘soothing’.

But the most popular gift at new year is probably MONEY!

year of the dog

Have a great Lunar New Year!

One thought on “What are some Korean folk customs at Lunar New Year?

  • February 15, 2018 at 4:50 am

    I think an opened tin of Specially Prepared American meat is enough to put any ghost off from entering the house let alone stealing the blue suede shoes 👌


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