My Korean New Year’s Day Celebration

December 23, 2020

A traditional Korean New Years' Day celebration usually looks like this.

Courtesy of 10 Magazine Korea

A traditional Korean New Years’ Day celebration usually looks like this.

“새해 복 많이 받으세요!” (Happy New Year!)

It’s a phrase heard all around Korean households on New Year’s day. And Koreans say it to wish others a happy new year. New Year’s day for my family is a slight variation of Seollal (Korean New Year) and the modernized aspects of New Year’s Day. In my opinion, it’s the best of both worlds. Each year is the same: respecting elders, visiting family, and lots of food and fun.
We begin the day by visiting our grandparents’ house. While it is now an option in our household to wear traditional clothing, my grandparents consistently stick by it. We say our greetings and begin to filter into the dining room. Our family gathers around the table and eats 떡국 (tteokguk), a rice cake soup that is usually eaten during the Korean New Year. Alongside traditional dishes, there is always soda on the side.

After eating our fill, we gather around the living room, and my grandparents sit in the front of the room. It’s time for 세배 (sebae), which is honoring our elders by kneeling and bowing. We wish our elders a happy New Year and lots of luck in the upcoming year. In return, the elders give their wishes and 세뱃돈 (sebaetdon), or money!

We also play a game of 윷놀이 (yutnori), which is a Korean board game. Our teams are split into girls vs boys. If your team loses a game of yutnori, your team has to use the money to pay for pizza. Like most board games, the goal of 윷놀이 (yutnori) is to get all of your players to the end. To move, you throw four sticks that act as dice. You can create misfortune for the other team by capturing their players, which causes them to go back to the start. For our family, it’s the loudest part of New Year’s. After all, our money is on the line.

A picture of a 윷놀이 (yutnori) gameboard, which is popular on New Year’s Day. (Courtesy of Heidi Kwak (’24))

There is no predicting 윷놀이 (yutnori), just as no one can predict what will happen in the new year. I have my best wishes, and for 2021, we can think of this as a start for new goals. So this year, when I sit back and enjoy my pizza, you can bet my resolution is hoping for the return of my old lifestyle. So count the seconds, cherish the memories, and say goodbye to 2020!

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