No, I’m not confused LOL. In the US, today marks the first day of Lunar New Year – also called Chinese Chunjie, Vietnamese Tet, Korean Seollal(설날), Spring Festival and more! Asian countries all over the world use the lunar calendar which is based on the cycles of the moon. So the actual date of the New Year can vary 15 days or so each year. I am always surprised by how many Americans still do not know about Lunar New Year.
Let this year be the last that you are not informed. Read on about this festive holiday of your Asian cousins all over the Earth! Each country has slight variations of traditions and since I am half Korean I will focus on what I know -Seollall – The Korean version of Asian New Year. You can Google all the others – it is fun to see what foods and celebrations each country has to ring in their new year.
Seollall is the first day of the Korean calendar which is based on the Chinese Lunar calendar. It is one of the most important traditional holidays. No, not every Korean celebrates it– just like not every American celebrates New Year’s Eve. Korean New Year celebrations usually last about three days. This is when many people will make a trip to their hometowns to visit family. It is a very busy time for the traveling industry.
Today, religion is very diverse in South Korea even though more than half the population is actually irreligious. However Buddhism was very dominant for a long time so many of the ancient festivities are heavily influenced by that. Christianity is also very popular in South Korea today. Korean New Year is a family holiday when even the busiest, ambitious sons of families will take time off work to visit their grandparents and parents in their humble home towns. People who have moved to other countries even fly back on this holiday!
The day before the New Year, Koreans may pay respect toward their ancestors by preparing traditional foods and placing it on a table as an “offering”. Family members will do deep bows to pay respect for people that came before them. Then they will “pray” however way they practice their religion. Even non religious members will stay silent and respectful during these prayers. The prayers are for good health and good fortune, typically.
Many families will choose to wear traditionally Korean clothing called handbok but it is not required. These outfits are usually brought out for traditional weddings and other celebrations and not worn every day as they once were. It is again a nod to heritage and respecting the old traditions. It is indigenous clothing and should be treated with respect and not worn for Halloween or other reasons. You always want to avoid appropriation.
Unlike birds in the wild the men’s version of Hanbok is not as ornate as the women’s. I find that strangely satisfying as a female. LOL
One of my favorite soups is served on New Year – Tteokguk (떡국). It is a traditional sliced rice cake soup that contains a satisfying mild broth, julienned fried eggs, bits of marinated meat and slivers of roasted laver. Much like some people in the US eat black eyed peas and such for good luck the sliced rice cakes look like coins to some and it is supposed to grant people good luck and another year of life. Ah, superstitions and traditions are fun! All I remember from childhood is that Grandmother made this soup and I got to eat a lot of it and it was delicious. Want to try some? Here is a great recipe from one of my favorite Youtube cooks, Maangchi! https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/tteokguk/comment-page-6
My family of four in the US simply wish each other Happy New Year and we will have a Korean/Asian meal sometime today. I will of course have rice cake soup but I just buy the instant kind because no one else likes it. LOL I eat it purely for nostalgia. I always miss my dear Grandmother a lot on this day and will think of all the wonderful things she did to raise me. She was an amazing woman. I am too fat for my Hanbok and it is too expensive for us to travel to Korea each year so I will skip that. Once COVID is handled we hope to take a trip to South Korea as a family so my girls can see a bit of their heritage.
I am very proud to be an American who has ancestors from South Korea, China and Hungary. I am unique in DNA makeup but I have great pride in the US and I hope people will come together and celebrate their differences instead of hating on one another. You don’t have to agree with everything someone believes to respect them. Whatever you are celebrating today, I hope you are surrounded by love, good health, great food and amazing people. Happy Lunar New Year from me to you!