Seollal 2013: Year of the Snake

This weekend, February 9th, brings with it the Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Snake. Although often referred to as Chinese New Year, it is celebrated in many south-east Asian countries, including Korea where it is known as Seollal. While Koreans do celebrate the start of each year according to the Gregorian calendar on January 1st, Seollal is a much bigger celebration, lasting three days.

2013 Year of the Snake

2013 is the year of the snake, which is the sixth zodiac sign in a twelve year cycle. People born in the Year of the Snake (like me!), are said to be wise and thoughtful, people who approach problems logically and rationally. They are clever, but often conceited and egoistic. They are very insightful and naturally intuitive, sometimes said to have a sixth sense. People born in this star sign appreciate fashion and beautiful things. Determined and ambitious, they often take failures to heart. Not sure I agree with all of that…

Last year we braved the cold and spent Seollal at Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, experiencing lots of traditional Korean activities and games. This year however, we’re going to see how they do it on the other side of the Yellow Sea; we’re going to Shanghai!

Happy New Year!

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Seollal – The Year of the Black Water Dragon

  Seollal is the Korean name for the Lunar New Year festival (do not call it Chinese New Year!).   Along with Chuseok (the harvest festival in September) it is the biggest event in the Korean calendar.  2012 is the Year of the Dragon, which is meant to be especially lucky because it is the only mythical creature in the zodiac.

But don’t expect big parades and fireworks, the Korean celebrations are very low key.  Seollal is a time to spend with family, and the cities become ghost towns as people disappear en masse to their hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors and visit their relatives.

This, of course, meant another activity day at Wonderland!  The kids all came into school wearing their traditional hanbok, elaborate and beautifully coloured outfits worn only for these special occasions.  We spent the morning singing traditional songs and playing traditional games, and the children all performed sebae, paying their respects to the school principal by bowing to him. On the day itself they would bow to their grandparents and receive blessings and often a small pouch of money. Then, for lunch we had a special Seollal meal, consisting of tteokguk (a broth with thinly sliced rice cakes in), rice, meat, tteokbokki (rice cakes in a spicy red sauce), and of course, because no Korean meal would be complete without it, kimchi!

Food is a big part of the New Year celebrations, and it is believed that people’s ancestors return to enjoy the holiday food with their families.  Meat, fish, rice, wild vegetables and tteokguk are all served. The Lunar New Year is similar to a birthday for Koreans and according to tradition after you have eaten this soup you are one year older.

Over the weekend we went to Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul as they were putting on some special events for Seollal. We watched a performance of a traditional harvest dance, played yut nori (throwing wooden sticks to see your fortune for the coming year), tuho (throwing arrows into a large vase), and gongi (a game similar to jacks). We also made Korean masks with clay (my lack of creative talent became very apparent here!) and had a wander around the village. Here’s to a prosperous and happy 2012, and fingers crossed my fortune comes true…!

새해 복 많이 받으세요! – Happy New Year!