This past weekend, Koreans here traveled near and far to their parents' and grandparents' homes to celebrate 설날 (Seollal), or Lunar New Year. The solar New Year is celebrated on January 1st, but Lunar New Year can vary in date depending on the lunar calendar. It generally occurs on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice, and it celebrated on the same day as Mongolian New Year, Chinese New Year, Tibetan New Year, and Vietnamese New Year. It is the most important of Korea's traditional holidays, and lasts for three days.
To mark this occasion, families wear traditional clothing, called 한복 (hanbok). These are very ornate outfits, and very beautifully made. Children bow to their elders, in a ritual known as 세배, and wish them many blessings for the new year ("새해복 많이 받으세요"). Their parents and grandparents then give them a gift of the new year's money, usually crisp, new bills.
During this time, families also pay respects to their deceased ancestors by lighting incense and laying out the feast, known as 차례 (charye). They eat 떡국 (ddeokguk), or soup with rice cakes, which symbolizes the passing of a year and the arrival of a birthday. From this day until next year's Seollal, they can now count themselves as one year older.
Here in Gwangju, we enjoyed a nice long weekend as a chance to rest and take a breather from a normally hectic life. Everything is so go-go-go here that it's nice to see people take a break for a change and enjoy their family time. Today, I could already tell things were starting to get back to normal as stores reopened, and traffic flooded the streets once more. Tomorrow we will go back to our normal fast-paced daily lifestyle, until the next holiday comes along!