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New Year is an important time in the South Korean calendar. Make sure you do your New Year's Eve in South Korea the right way
All around the world, the end of an old year and the start of the new is an exciting and energised time. South Korea is, of course, no exception.
In Korea, two New Years are celebrated. The New Year of the traditional, lunar calendar – as is the case in most East Asian cultures. And the New Year of the more modern solar – or Gregorian – calendar.
On this page, we will be focusing on South Korea's traditional New Year, or Seollal, but we will also be discussing December 31st and January 1st, as both holidays are important to modern Korean culture.
While Western New Year and New Year's Eve celebrations involve drinking, socialising in bars and clubs, and counting down to the beginning of a new 12 months, traditional South Korean New Year’s Eve gatherings are geared towards the family.
For at least 1700 years, since the practice was recorded by Chinese historian Chen Shou in his great work, Records of the Three Kingdoms, (and probably for many centuries before this) Koreans have been travelling home for the New Year.
They bear gifts. They go to great lengths to make their family members happy. They eat and they drink. But all of this is carried out in or around the family home.
This means that the best way to experience New Year in South Korea is to pay a visit to the home of a Korean friend and their family. Bring a gift, and prepare to experience the warmest display of hospitality you have ever seen.
2018: February 16
2019: February 5
2020: January 25
So what actually happens at New Year in South Korea? What should you do?
Well, in a similar way to many other East Asian cultures, including China, Japan, and Vietnam, the cultural significance of food is entwined with that of New Year. Here are a few dishes you should try:
Tteokguk: A bowl of rice dumplings in soup, which is associated with Korean ageing customs. In traditional Korean culture, people are deemed to become one year older at New Year, and will eat a bowl of tteokguk in celebration.
Jeon: This is a type of pancake, prepared in a savoury manner, and is usually eaten on New Year in South Korea.
Japchae: A delicious blend of beef, glass noodles, mushroom and vegetables, popular during New Year celebrations.
In addition to this, expect to eat a variety of other local dishes, in impressive volumes!
Seoul and the surrounding areas and cities – including Incheon and Songdo – tend to do things a little differently to the rest of the country. People here, particularly young people, may have modern jobs that do not close down over the New Year, making it difficult for them to get home.
Also, Seoul and Incheon are more cosmopolitan than other areas of Korea, with large groups of people who live and work far from their homes overseas.
This means that Seoul, for the most part, continues to operate throughout the New Year. If you do not have Korean family, or close Korean friends, the bars and restaurants of the capital will gladly accommodate you.
If this is your situation, New Year in Seoul is the most exciting way to experience the colour and vibrancy of South Korea's Seollal celebrations.
The Two New Years: Solar and Lunar
It is important to understand that Seollal, or Korean New Year, is not a replacement for the New Year you might celebrate abroad. Instead, it is the preservation of a long-held set of traditions and beliefs which make South Korea what it is today.
Whether you are in Korea on December 31, or on the day before the Lunar New Year, you can expect to have a great New Year's Eve in South Korea.