Happy New Year! Some people might wonder why all Koreans say this word at the middle of February, because it’s been over 40 days since the year 2010 started! However, according to Korea’s traditional agricultural lunar calendar, the official new year starts during a day in February. In 2010, it happened to fall on February 14th. Therefore, Korea has fallen into a biggest holidays of the year! Traditionally, Koreans gather with all relatives to celebrate this holidays. My family also always visit my grandma’s house every Lunar New Year’s day! Look at this bus station where so many Koreans are waiting for the bus that heads to their hometown!
My grandma’s house is located at Okcheon, which is a real countryside. This is my grandma’s house. It has been there ever since my grandmother and grandfather married! My dad, uncles and aunts all had grown up there.
In this countryside, I can feel natural and serene mood, which is lacked in Seoul. Sometimes, this visiting that happens almost twice a year comes to me as a relaxing.
However, this countryside becomes busy and lively on those holidays due to people come from cities to visit their hometown. Look, those cars are all from somewhere other than this small town.
Even though I was not wearing Korea traditional colthes, Hanbok, I experienced what we’ve been doing annually according to the tradition. Korean people usually practice ancestral rites on a large scale on this traditional holiday. There’s a specific way of preparing food and setting table for this sacred table for the ancestors, and family members bow for their ancestors in front of the table. After this ritual, everyone eats the food used for ritual. There’s another traditional food for Lunar New Year’s day, which is Tteokguk, also called rice cake soup. Every Korean eats this food on New Year’s Day. Koreans believe that you truly become one year older after you eat tteokguk. As everyone does, I also ate Tteokguk on New Year’s day. I did New Year’s Bow, too, which I will explain more later.
After I came back from my grandma’s house, I planned to do something very special on this holiday! It was experiencing traditional pastime! One of the features of Korea’s traditional holidays is that when many relatives gather, they usually play traditional pastime that all the family can enjoy together! So, many traditional sites of Korea prepare events for people who like to enjoy this tradition easily and happily. That’s why I visited Chang Gyeong Gung, which is one of Chosun Dynasty’s palaces, to experience traditional pastime. There were facilities provided for people to play the games conveniently, and apparently, there were so many people who came to participate in this event! I guess it was not only my thought that this could be a wonderful opportunity for families to spend holidays so meaningfully, learning about our tradition.
Yut game is a traditional game that has started before more than a thousand years ago. It is famous for being a New Year’s Day’s game. Many people recognize it as a game that has to be played on Lunar New Year’s Day. Another feature of this game is that many people can play it altogether. Normally, 4 people play it by dividing themselves in two teams. However, it actually doesn’t matter how many pople play it if it can be divided into two teams. The game proceeds by throwing Yuts (those five wooden sticks) into the air, and how many circles your piece can proceed each time is decided by how many yuts have become upside down by being thrown. This game is a game that is prefect to improve relatives’ relationship by playing in teams.
Visit to see how to play Yut Game more specifically!
Kicking around Jegi is a very easy game. All you have to do is just kicking around this pom pom-shaped thing called ‘Jegi’ in the air with your side of foot, where the ankle bone is located. In thie game, one who kicks it the most wins. In the past, this jegi was made by rapping a coin with a cloth. These days, few kids play this game, but people whose age is over 30 usually remember this game as a game that was so prevalent among their peers. I could see many father teaching jegi to their kids, recalling memories of their childhood. I think jegi is a very healthy and interesting pastime! Why don’t we play it these days? It’s so easy and funny. I could see many kids having fun playing jegi with their family.
Throwing Tu ho is one of Korea’s representative pastiimes. It has been played since Koryu Dynasty, and it is said that it was popular among aristocrat ladies. How to play is so easy. All you have to do is to throw this arrow-shaped stick into a jar. The one who puts those sticks into the pottery the most wins this game. The team is differentiated by colors of the stick. It is very similar to dart game. It looks easy, but is quite difficult to throw this long stick into a narrow opening of the jar.
Even though playing with top is a universal pastime, Korea has its own traditional top. It is a pastime that has prevailed since long time ago. Like jegi, many Korean adults remember this game as a game of their childhood. In Korean traditional way, one has to whip the top with a strap at the end of a wooden stick. If you keep whipping, the top spins. The one who makes the top spin for longer time wins the game. Other than this, there’s a game such as ‘Top Fight’, which is making tops crash into each other, and one that survives wins. I’m sure that many male adults would remember how they played with tops in winter. It’s traditionally a winter sports, because a top spins very smoothly on ice. I could see many fathers proudly play a game of their reminiscence in front of their children.
<New Year’s Bow>
Another programme that was prepared was learning correct New Year’s Bow. That is another tradition of Lunar New Year’s days. Usually, kids bow to adult relatives with saying ‘Happy New Year’, and adults also say New Year’s words of blessing and give money to the kids in the meaning of wishing New Year’s luck. At this section of the event, an instructor was teaching kids how to bow properly.
The kids were following the instructors’ lesson of how to bow in correct stance and the adults were recommended to wish the kids good luck. Souvenirs, which are called Bok pocket, were given to the participants. This pocket is a traditional silk-made pocket that is used to contain the money that is given to the kids. It looks very beautiful with its own shape, so I could see those participants fully satisfied with the gifts.
<Korean Culture – How To Bow on New Year’s Day>
In addition, there was a corner that is prepared for people who want to make white tiger accessory such as necklace and cell phone accessories. For Koreans, 2010 is a year of white tiger. That is related to 12 animal system, which is prevalent in Asian culture. Koreans name each year with an animal that is in turn. Each animal of 12 anmals becomes a mascot of an year in cycle. Therefore, the babies that are born in 2010 happen to have white tiger as their zodiac sign, which is similar to one’s own coonstellation.
From this experience I learned a method to spend holidays in more meaningful and interesting way. By learning traditional pastimes, I could feel how funny our tradition could be, while I didn’t recognize its existence in my ordinary life. I think events like this will improve people’s attitude toward tradition, and it will be so helpful in preserving the tradition. Also, I was so happy to see many families enjoy this national holidays together. Normally, those traditional holidays seemed so boring to each family member. Children didn’t know what to do when they were apart from computers, Men got tired from driving for many hours in jammed road, and women were sick of preparing holiday food. However, in this way, I could find a way to enjoy holidays with whole family. As this kind of events is held every year, I’m planning to participate in this events more frequently with my family. Oh, there’s a tip! If you wear Korean traditional clothes, the entrance fee is free!
Learn more about Seollal, Lunar New Year’s Day!