Many people outside of Asia aren’t familiar with the Lunar New Year, but it’s a holiday filled with long-standing traditions that continue to play an important part in Korean culture and modern society. We’ll be giving you a closer look at some of these traditions including how the holiday is celebrated, the white cow of the Korean zodiac, burning the Moon House, and how the celebration will change in 2021.
Every Lunar New Year begins with Charye, otherwise known as Ancestral Rites. This is a memorial service where living relatives pray for the peace and good health of their ancestors. During this ceremony family members wear Hanbok (a traditional Korean attire) and offer ritual dishes such as tteokguk ( a rice-cake soup that represents the passing of time and new beginnings), meat, seafood, fruit, rice, and liquor to their ancestors. After a series of orchestrated bows, the rites are concluded and the offered dishes are shared among participating family members.
Then comes every child’s favorite part, Sebae, an event where children bow to their elders in exchange for blessings that come in the form of cold, hard cash. Once the money is received, children place the money in a Korean fortune pouch called a bokjumeoni. Next up, it’s time to play some games. Family members gather to play Yut-nori, a strategy game that has been a part of Seollal for hundreds of years, jegichagi (a game similar to hacky-sack), and other traditional games.
With the New Lunar Year comes the next animal of the Korean zodiac. Some of you might not have heard of the Korean zodiac - it is similar to the Chinese zodiac except it assigns different attributes and meanings to each animal. In the upcoming Lunar New Year, we say goodbye to the white mouse and welcome the white cow. Traditionally, white cows are believed to carry sacred energy, and with that energy comes fortune and luck. The cow also represents patience since they are slow and able to walk long distances without breaks. So, here’s hoping the white cow brings us a year of positive changes, helping us overcome difficulties of the previous year.
Originating in the Gyeongsang province of Korea, the Burning of the Moon House is a festival that pays tribute to the moon deity on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. The moon house is carefully constructed using a combination of bamboo and pine branches. People then write their wishes on a piece of paper and tie them to the Moon House. Once the moon rises above the mountains, the structure is set ablaze in an attempt to maximize the life force of all beings in the universe and chase away bad luck. The ritual is considered successful if the smoke from the fire is thick enough to cover the moon.
This year, people are adjusting their Lunar New Year plans or opting out of celebrating, all together. There is currently a health and safety campaign imposing strict guidelines against gatherings of 5 or more people, and with the fluctuating number of cases, many are worried about coming together and having their elder family members fall sick. Luckily, live streaming services and other digital alternatives are helping people stay in touch with their families during the Seollal, Lunar New Year holiday.