Seollal or how the Korean Lunar New Year is celebrated

Traditional dishes and clothes, ritual for the ancestors: the Korean New Year takes place on January 22 this year, embodying all the traditional Korean values.

This holiday comes with three days off: the day before and the day after the Korean New Year are holidays. This holiday is institutionally recognized and yet this has not always been the case.

Under the Japanese occupation, between 1910 and 1945, the authorities formally forbade Koreans from celebrating “Seollal”: the new year had to be celebrated for everyone according to the Gregorian calendar. When the country was liberated, it was not reintroduced as a national holiday. It will be necessary to wait until 1985 for the Koreans to benefit from vacation days when the event comes. In 1989, Minister Roh Taewoo declared “Seollal” to be the official Korean New Year.

The origins of Seollal

This national holiday is part of the Korean traditions inherited from Confucianism. Confucianism is a philosophy thought up by a Chinese philosopher in the 4th century BC. AD: Confucius. Its fundamental principles are virtue, piety and respect for elders. The recognition of the existence of the spiritual world is also a guideline of this philosophical current.

Confucius said that it was through politics and education that these values ​​should be transmitted. At 2n/a century BC. AD, this philosophy becomes the state religion of the Han dynasty.

In 109 BC. AD, the founding kingdom of Korea, Gojoseon, is invaded by the Han dynasty. The Confucian philosophy was already known from previous migratory movements and commercial exchanges between the two nations. But it is at this moment that it becomes established definitively in Korean culture.

Even today in South Korea, certain values ​​such as respect for hierarchy, the importance of the family circle or the recognition of the spiritual world are inherited from Confucianism. The celebration of “Seollal” is a perfect example.

Korean New Year, a family celebration

While for some Europeans the New Year is celebrated with friends, for many Koreans “Seollal” is a family event. Sometimes, the stay is cut in two between the different members of the family, this is what Kanghyien, 25, is used to doing: “On New Year’s Eve, I go to my parents’ house and the same day we all go together to my grandparents’.”

On the first day of the holiday, that is, New Year’s Eve, it is customary for relatives to meet and together prepare the dishes that will be served the next day. It is also an opportunity to spend a privileged moment with family members: “Very often, the day before “Seollal”, I take care of my little cousin: we read books together or we go for a walk with his dog” shares Dahye, 29.

Traditions and rituals of Seollal

On the very day of “Seollal”, when the family is rested and has enjoyed their reunion, some of them wear the traditional dress: the Hanbok. It is the newlyweds who tend to wear it, or the parents who dress their young children: “When we’re little, we wear hanboks because our parents think we’re cute with them, but as we grow up we stop wearing them. », says Khanghyien.

Many Korean families resort to the ritual of “Saebe” considered very important during this celebration. Very early in the morning of the 1er January, relatives get up, wash their faces, get dressed and come together. “Saebe” is to pay tribute to his elders and the deceased of the family.

To do this, Koreans kneel while making a bow by lowering their heads once towards their elders and make the same movement by lowering their heads twice towards the deceased. “The New Year is seen as a renewal of body and mind. When we pay respect to elders, we make a wish either out loud or in our head. » explains Sora, 35.

Once the younger ones have done this ritual, the elders reward them with pocket money with a graduated amount: “Adults donate 10,000 won to college students and 5,000 won to high school students”says Ara, 30, Sora’s little sister.

However, other people do not resort to this practice. This is the case for some people of the Catholic faith like Miji, 40: “Instead, we go to church on New Year’s Day and also pray for the deceased. » Once the tribute has been paid, it’s time to sit down to eat and taste all the dishes that were cooked the day before.

Recipes specific to Seollal festivals

Koreans have specific recipes for special occasions that bring loved ones together for a meal. For the preparation of these dishes, they can be very generous!

As a starter, the “tteokguk” is offered. This soup made from rice cakes is clean and representative of “Seollal”. “My aunt prepares the best “tteogkuk”: light and delicious! » shares Kyowoon, 29.

As for the accompaniments, we no longer know where to turn: the “kimchi buchimgae” are almost necessarily in the game. These are kimchi patties in which other vegetables or meat can be added. “Dongtaejeon”, or fish pancakes will delight more than one. “Japchae” is also very popular during the holidays. These are fried sweet potato noodles, cooked with vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms and often seasoned with baby spinach.

As for dishes made with meat, there is something for everyone! One of the traditional Korean dishes is “dwaejigogi suyuk”: boiled pork presented in slices which can be coated with kimchi. “Galbijjim” is a dish made from braised beef ribs. It is cooked with carrots and mushrooms, bathed in a special sauce: “It’s Korean beef bourguignon!” » Sora jokes.

As for the drink, we are not talking about champagne! Sikhe, a sweet drink made from rice is typical of this celebration: “With the perfect amount of sugar, it’s so refreshing. I can say it’s my favorite drink. » shares Kyowoon, 29.

As this festival is an opportunity for the family to get together, board games are often organized, such as “Yut noori” for children. It is a game that uses 5 wooden sticks, called “Yut”. “I remember playing it when I was very young, it was very fun and a great team game that we could do as a family! » Kyowoon remembers. If it ever gets cold enough, it’s also common to get outside and have fun with the snow: “Seollal last, we went sledding in the neighborhood with my little cousin” recalls Dahye.

The third day of vacation is usually a rest day. The Koreans spend this time quietly at home before heading back to the road: home.

But the fact remains that every year, not everyone has the opportunity to join their family. This is the case for sisters Sora and Ara this year: “We are going to abstain because we don’t have time: every year the buses are full, there are traffic jams all over the country during the days of Seollal! Our family understands. “.

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