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  • 작성자 사진Kim Min-ji

[Tradition] Similar but Different Korean National Holidays

No. 154 / Oct 18, 2021

The longest holidays in Korea are Seollal and Chuseok. Although they appear similar in that people wear Hanbok and hold a memorial ceremony, there are many differences in meaning, food, and customs. Seollal is the first day of the new year on January 1. Therefore, it has the meaning of “passing the old year and welcoming the first morning of the new year”. Since Korea uses both the lunar and solar calendars, Seollal happens twice a year, and South Korea designates the Lunar New Year as the official holiday. Lunar New Year is determined by the cycle of the moon, so the date changes every year. This year’s Lunar New Year was February 12, and last year’s Lunar New Year was January 25. Chuseok is the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This means “in the night, when the moonlight is the brightest in autumn.” The moon was a symbol of vitality, so ancestors gave thanks for the year’s harvest on the day when the brightest and roundest moon of the year rose, and prayed for a bountiful harvest for the next year.

Traditionally, on Seollal, Tteokguk, a rice cake soup, is eaten after a memorial ceremony. This means that you become one year older in a healthy way. The reason Tteokguk has become a representative food for Seollal is that the long white rice cake symbolizes purity and longevity, and the cut rice cake looks like a Yeopjeon, a traditional Korean coin, so people ate Tteokguk praying for health and wealth. Seollal’s customs are Seolbim that people wear new clothes to greet the new day, “receiving blessings and pocket money” from adults, and “playing various games”. The representative games are Playing Yut to predict the fortune of the year, Neolttwigi, which is a Korean jumping game similar to see-sawing—based on a myth that women who were not free to go out started to look over the fence, and Kite Flying high in the sky by writing down their wishes for the year. On Chuseok, we eat Songpyeon made with various grain garnishes. Our ancestors made Songpyeon out of gratitude for being able to harvest a variety of grains. As the symbols of Chuseok are both years of good harvest and the moon, plays are related to these two. The representative games are Ganggangsullae, a traditional Korean play in which women hold hands and sing in a circle while looking at the round moon, and the cow play where people dressed in cow costumes visit every house to enact a performance and share food with each other.

Information on local festivals held during holidays can be obtained on the website of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). Let us enjoy Korean holidays by participating in these festivals. Now that you have acquired knowledge about Korean holidays, you will be able to participate more enjoyably.


By Kim Min-ji, AG reporter

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