February 8 marks the beginning of the lunar new year in 2016, or Seollal as it’s known in Korea. This year is the year of the red monkey, byeongsinnyeon.

If you are heading to Korea around this time, be warned – many businesses and big stores may shut, and hotel fees and travel fares will shoot up as people travel back to their hometowns, to see their families. Seollal is a bit like a UK Christmas in that it’s a time for families to gather, exchange gifts and chow down on traditional food. Some people also wear hanbok, and play traditional games, sing karaoke together or just catch up. The festival lasts around three days.

Charye, preparation, means that department stores and markets will be super crowded in the days leading up to Seollal. Department store gift cards and cash are the most popular gifts for any age or relation. Kids who pay respects to their elders by bowing deeply and offering them presents, in a rite known as sabae, will receive New Year’s money.

The ancestor spirits are revered on Seollal; a feast of many traditional dishes is laid out on a table for them during charye, and before eating it, family members bow deeply and pray for the family’s wellbeing in the new year.tteok-guk, a rice cake soup with beef and vegetables, is also eaten to add a year to one’s life. The white rice cakes in it are meant to represent a fresh and clean start to the year.

To wish Korean friends a happy new year, say 새해 복 많이 받으세요, saehae bog manhi badeuseyo (click here to hear it).

Last but not least, we always get to enjoy some New Year’s greetings from Kpop stars, who often don hanbok for the occasion. Last year, Rainbow very cutely wanted to teach us about etiquette for Seollal. Looking forward to seeing what this year’s event brings!

If you fancy celebrating Seollal at home, take a look at these links:
Learn the Korean for all the zodiac signs
Make tteok-guk
Stock up on tteok
Learn how to bow properly
A traditional Korean board game called Yut Nori


About Author

British writer and editor living in Japan. Currently studying Japanese, Korean, K-pop dance, and the fine form of 이성종's legs.