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Korean Seasonal Greetings and Holidays

There is no traditional Korean custom for Christmas, although gift giving at this time of the year blends with the general year end Korean custom of "settling accounts."

For the approximate 25% of the South Korean population that is Christian, this is a very important time of the year. Although Koreans have adopted the practice of lights and decorations, there is no Christmas tree tradition.

Sol-nal, the first day of the lunar new year usually falls in late January or early February but it is celebrated January first through the third each year. It is a time for settling debts with friends and giving gifts to your boss at work.

The standard New Year's Greeting is: "Saehae pok manhi pat-useyo." (May you receive many blessings in the New Year.)

On New Year's Eve straw scoopers, rakes and sieves (made of straw) are placed on doors and walls to protect families from evil spirits in the year to come. On New Year's Day everyone dresses in new clothes, symbolizing a fresh beginning. It is a time for families to gather together, usually at the residence of the eldest living male in the male line, to demonstrate ritual obeisance to family elders.

Children pay their respects to their parents with formal bows. In return, parents give their children a gift of money for their demonstration of filial piety. This tradition is not limited to the young but applies to all child-parent relationships irrespective of age group. It also carries over to respect for elders in general.

Usually there is also a Chae sa (solemn ancestor memorial ritual) for men only. The eldest male leads all the male family lineage members to pay their respects to the ancestors of the lineage. If at all possible, this is done at the grave site of the ancestors and is followed with a feast with the entire family celebrating the new year.

Some of the traditional delicacies eaten at this time are miyook-kuk (seaweed/pork broth with rice dumplings) and rice cakes filled with bean curd.

Traditional games of yut (yoot), a stick game with wooden pegs, (for everyone) kite flying, top-spinning, snow sliding (for boys), and see-sawing (for girls) on large setups in a courtyard or in a park, are all extremely popular.


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