The Korean New Year, called Seollal, is the most important Korean holiday. Celebrating the first day of the new lunar year, Seollal can fall anywhere from late January to late February, depending on the lunar calendar. This year’s celebration will take place on Thursday, February 19. A three-day holiday consisting of celebrations on the day before the Korean New Year Day, New Year Day itself and the day after, many families return to their hometowns and take part in ancestral rituals.
Seollal celebrations typically begin with everyone wearing a hanbok, or traditional Korean dress without pockets characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines. Hanbok are worn by modern-day Koreans as semi-formal or formal wear only during celebrations and traditional festivals.
Younger members of Korean families perform a ritual for the oldest family members during this time called sebae. Sebae is a deep, formal bow of respect that when performed well results in gifts of money from the older family members. Historically, parents gave rice cakes and fruit to children instead of money.
Another ritual performed during Seollal is called charye. Charye involves honoring one’s ancestors by visiting their tombs, bringing offerings of food, fruit and wine. The day before Seollal is spent preparing the food that will be used not only to serve the family but also as an offering to ancestors. Many Koreans believe that the taste and appearance of the ritual foods determines the level of satisfaction of their elders, so great care is taken in preparation.
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