Check out how we celebrate Seollal, a Korean holiday, know my myeonuri duties and learn the customs and what to expect during this kind of holiday.
What is Seollal?
Seollal (설날) or Korean Lunar New Year is the most important traditional Korean holiday. This holiday is usually the Chinese New Year for other countries like the Philippines and China. Seollal is a holiday that lasts for three days. The family gathers all together and the women are the ones in charge of the kitchen to prepare the food.
Usually, the Seollal occurs during January or February and this year it will be celebrated from the 24th to the 26th.
Meaning of Seollal
Seol (설) means the beginning of the year and it’s the day to pray for the well-being and good health for the rest of the whole year.
Customs during Seollal
1. Koreans dress up in colorful traditional Korean clothing called hanbok.
2. During the first morning, Koreans pay their respect to their ancestors.
3. Charye (차례를 지내다) or Memorial Service for Ancestors – traditional foods are placed on a table as an offering to the ancestors, and a rite begins with deep bows from all family members.
4. Sebae (세배) – this is really observed during Seollal because it is a ritual of filial piety where children wish the elders (grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles) a happy new year and give them a deep bow and says “Saehae bok mani badeuseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요) or “Please receive a lot of good fortune for the New Year” in English.
5. The elders usually reward the children with new year’s money or sebaet don (세뱃돈).
6. Aside from receiving a new year’s money or sebaet don (세뱃돈), elders also offer words of wisdom deokdam (덕담).
What to eat during Seollal?
In Korea, during holidays they have special foods to eat like in Chuseok they have the Songpyeon or the half-moon-shaped rice cake. While in Seollal, Koreans eat tteokguk (떡국) or soup with sliced rice cakes. When you eat or finish one bowl of this dish it means you are one year older. So if you will visit a Korean family during Seollal do not eat two or more bowls because it means you’ll be much older. (hahaha)
What to expect during Seollal?
1. Bus stations, trains, and subways are crowded
2. Traffic jam
3. Fruits are really expensive
4. Seollal gifts are everywhere
5. Preparing and sending gifts to family members
Seollal: A Korean Holiday and My Myeonuri Duties
I first came to Korea in 2016 but I arrived in the first week of April so my first experience of Seollal here was in 2017. My son was just 1 year old so I was not obliged to help with the cooking but I was there to watch and learn. I only washed the dishes in my first year and it was not that hard for me since I love washing the dishes. But doing it for 3 days and 3 to 5 times a day was very tiring. I also need to bow and greet those family members who came and visit.
In 2018, it was the year I started helping my mother-in-law during holidays. The task being assigned to me is frying all the jeons or cakes and others. At first, it was very hard since you have to be careful not to burn the fried foods. Aside from that, you have to cook it pretty well as you need to have that talent for the best presentation.
This year, I’ll be turning four years here in Korea and I can say that I have mastered the frying task. But have you been wondering why do I need to help my mother-in-law? I have my sisters-in-law honestly, but I’m still the one that they need to help. The reason is my husband is the eldest son and that means I am the eldest daughter-in-law.
Lastly and important thing, it is one of my duties to help my mother-in-law since my husband is the eldest son. My husband and I will be the ones who will continue the tradition when they are gone and pass it through to our son later on.
Tips for a Newbie Myeonuri
If you are a newbie myeonuri, I know you’ll feel very nervous and wish to disappear or be sick on that day. But don’t make it too hard for yourself. Just think of it as one of the bad days and it will be better the next day. You’ll survive it too like me.
1. Be polite to everyone (even to the most annoying family member of your husband).
2. Keep smiling no matter how tired you are.
3. Do not fight with your husband for not helping because it’s a Korean tradition.
4. After the tiring days, you can gift yourself a reward like having a massage, taking a rest, or going to shopping.
For other Korean holidays, read Things to Know About Chuseok, A Korean Holiday
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새해에는 건강하고 행복하세요!