Like many other Asian countries, Korea has two different New Year’s days according to solar and lunar calendars. The more widely preferred one is the lunar New Year’s day, called So-nal.
Sol-nal is a day for the whole family’s reunion and for refreshing everyone’s common life at the very beginning of a year. The day has many special meanings and events.
On Sol-nal’s Eve, people prepare special sieves made with straw (Bok-jori) and hang them outdoors to protect their family from evil and bad luck.
Often, kids try to keep awake all that night because they believe that if they sleep, their eyebrows will turn white.
On the morning of Sol-nal, everyone dresses in specially prepared, traditional clothes (usually new and fresh). Generally, these clothes are decorated with five colors. They are called Sol-bim.
Early in the morning, every family gathers at their eldest male member’s home to perform Cha-rye, ancestral memorial rites. Bowls of Ttok-kuk are served. This is a soup of thinly, sliced white rice cake, boiled in a thick beef broth topped with bright garnishes and green onions.
Ttok-kuk means “adding age.” People believe if they have a bowl of this soup, they will become one year older. Koreans traditionally add one to their age, not after their birthdays but after Sol-nal.
After the big, very special breakfast, the younger people bow to the their elders, wishing them health and long life, good luck, and prosperity through the whole year. This bowing is called Se-bae or Jol. To perform Jol, a man brings his hands together in front of his eyes and sits on his knees touching the floor. He then bows his head to his hands, which are touching the floor.
For a woman, it is much harder. She needs assistance to sit with her hands brought together in front of her eyes, but without her knees touching the floor. She sits down with her hip to the floor. Often, kids prepare small, beautifully decorated purses, called Bok-ju-mo-ny, to hold the money that the elders give them after the bowwing.
After the long bowing period, youngsters go outside to fly kites, spin tops (for boys) and enjoy Korean seesawing (for girls). Inside, people play Yut-no-ri, a game played with four wooden sticks and checkers. They eat, talk, and play all day long and enjoy their large family reunion—from great grandfather to great granddaughter.