Culture History

Why two New Year’s Days in Korea? Eat tteokguk on the first day? Make money from bowing!

Why are there two New New Year's Days in Korea?
saehae bok mani badeuseyo! 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (All the best for the New Year!) 


Are Koreans crazy about partying? Koreans celebrate the first day of the new year twice every year – Once on January 1 of the Solar (Gregorian) calendar, and once on January 1 of the Lunar calendar (usually between the third week of January and the middle of February). Let’s find out why. The “Two New Year’s Day” culture dates back to the Japanese colonial era. In 1910, Japan named the Solar New Year Shinjeong 신정 (New New Year) and re-named the traditional Lunar New Year, Seollal 설날, to Gujeong 구정 (Old New Year), as Japan persecuted Korean holiday customs and forced Japanese traditions on the Korean people (in Japan, the Lunar New Year was replaced by the Solar New Year in the late 1800s by Emperor Meiji). Furthermore, by labeling the Korean holiday “old,” it downplayed the significance of the Korean tradition. Since then, Japan designated Shinjeong as the only national holiday and promoted it by stressing that celebrating two identical holidays is socially wasteful in many ways. Naturally, the traditional lunar New Year was pushed to the back seat. The Lunar New Year, which lost its status as a traditional holiday under the Japanese colonial rule, was not able to find its place until 75 years later. In 1985, it again became a national holiday under the name “Folklore Day.” In 1989, the name was restored to Seollal, as a three-day holiday. The Lunar New Year might have disappeared if it weren’t for the Korean people who were determined not to lose their traditions despite the oppression of Japanese colonial rule. Even after Seollal was officially recognized as Lunar New Year’s Day, the Solar New Year also maintained its official holiday status as a three-day holiday. However, it was reduced to two days in 1991 and eventually became a one-day holiday in 1999.



Tteokguk 떡국 (rice cake soup) is a staple food for Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year. According to historical documents, on this special day, tteokguk was served instead of rice for the ancestral memorial service known as charye 차례

RELATED : Why do Korean people offer food to the photos of the ancestors? JESA 제사 – Remembering and honoring the ancestors.

Then why tteokguk among all other possible choices? Well, on New Year’s Day, we bid farewell to the old and welcome in the new for a fresh start. For this reason, it contains the primitive religious belief of being clean and solemn, and garaetteok 가래떡, a long white cylindrical rice cake perfectly fit the bill. Also, the long shape symbolizes longevity, while the sliced pieces symbolize “prosperity” because of their similarity to the traditional Korean coins.

RELATED : WHAT are the types of TTEOK 떡 (Rice Cakes) and their meanings? WHEN do Koreans eat them? HOW are they made?

Tteokguk was enjoyed year-round by everyone, from the royal family and the aristocrats to the working class, but held a special status on Seollal. For this reason, the literature from the 1800s on the customs of the Joseon Dynasty recorded that people jokingly said, “The number of tteokguk bowls you’ve had so far is your age.” But don’t worry, even if you eat two or three bowls, you don’t age more than a year.

Celebrate the New Year Korean style with – Surasang Tteokguk, Korean Rice Cake Soup, Pack of 6 [Amazon]


On New Year’s Day, men and women of all ages change into new clothes called seolbim 설빔 early in the morning and gather together to hold a memorial service for the deceased ancestors. Then, they bow to their grandparents first, and then, taking turns, the younger family members bow to the older family members to greet them for the first time in the New Year. This New Year’s bow is called sebae 세배. People visited the nearby neighbors’ houses to give greetings for the New Year. It was customary for adults to serve alcohol and food to those who come to do sebae, but children were given a little money or tteok and fruits instead of alcohol. Nowadays, kids look forward to Seollal because they can earn pocket money from doing sebae, but if you’re too young, it will probably go into your mom’s pocket, who acts as your “money manager,” happily of course. When bowing to the elderly, New Year’s greetings such as, “May you be healthier in the New Year,” and, “Happy New Year and live a long life,” can be said. The elderly would return by giving words of blessings, such as, “I hope you get promoted in the new year,” and, “I hope you achieve your wish in the new year.”

Teaching my kids how to Sebae 미국에서 아이들 세배 가르치기 | Korean American family life | LyT Vlog

RELATED : The art of bowing : From belly-button bows to half-bows to full-bows and 90-degree “folder” bows. Learn the different types and how to properly execute them!


New Year’s Day is a day to celebrate the new year with a new resolution. This determination was also expressed through a new dress called seolbim 설빔 worn on New Year’s Day morning. Wearing seolbim, which was made by weaving and sewing material by hand, was a must-have ritual even in the days when the family was not well-off. Presenting themselves neat and tidy in new clothing was a way to pay respect to the ancestors as well as praying for the wishes of the New Year. The children’s seolbim was particularly colorful. The boys wore a five-colored durumagi 두루마기, and a traditional Korean overcoat including blue, red, yellow, white, and black, related to the energy of the traditional Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth). For girls, yellow jeogori 저고리, the upper garment of Korean traditional clothes, and a flower-pink chima 치마, skirt, were typical.

RELATED : Do Koreans wear kimono? HANBOK 한복 – Traditional Korean Clothes : Hanbok in different times – History of Hanbok

Check out a selection of beautiful baby hanhttps://amzn.to/2WjI0bibok on Amazon.


Traditional Korean Games

Tuho 투호 Throw sticks into a canister to win the match.

Yutnori 윷놀이 – Korean board game. Players cast a set of four sticks to receive a set number of moves to bring home all four tokens before the opponent.

NOLJA YUTNORI Korean Board Game Set with English Guide [Amazon]

Korean Lucky Charms

Bokjumeoni 복주머니 – “Fortune Bag”

Lilith li Double Layer Korean Version Design Drawstring Bag Jewelry Pouch Coin Bags : 6 pcs/Set [Amazon]

Bokjori 복조리 – “Fortune Strainer”

CONTINUED AT If you do THIS on New Year’s Eve in Korea, your eyebrows will turn white! And don’t forget to hide your shoes! / The Korean New Year Countdown – Bosingak 보신각 bell-ringing ceremony.

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