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NEW YEAR: Language Corner! – With Korean From Zero!

New Year’s Day in Korea

In Korea, New Year’s Day is called 설날 (seol-lal), and like many countries Korea has a rich history of traditions and customs associated with this famous holiday.

© Rice cake soup, Pixabay, soscs, 28.12.2017,

© Rice cake soup, Pixabay, soscs, 28.12.2017,

Traditional New Year’s Food

A type of rice-cake soup known as 떡국 (tteok-guk) is one of the most common and popular Korean New Years’ dishes. On New Year’s Day, families will often start their day by having 떡국 (tteok-guk) for breakfast. The traditional Korean belief is that eating one bowl of 떡국 (tteok-guk) is equal to getting one year older. Adorably, it’s not uncommon for younger children in Korea to take this traditional belief literally and ask for more bowls of 떡국 (tteok-guk), hoping to become an adult in just one day!

There’s also a Korean proverb associated with 떡국 (tteok-guk): “ 대신 닭이다 (kkwong dae-sin talk-i-da)”. This proverb means “using chicken instead of pheasant” and is used to describe situations where something is needed but absent and something similar but of lesser quality must be used as a replacement. The connection of this proverb to 떡국 (tteok-guk) is that historically, in Korea, people would hunt for pheasant to use for the soup broth but in winter it was difficult to hunt pheasant, so chickens were used instead.

Cashing in on New Year’s?

설날 (Seol-nal) is also an exciting holiday for children because of 세뱃돈 (se-bae-don). 세뱃돈 (se-bae-don) is money that children receive from elderly family member for performing 세배 (se-bae). 세배 (se-bae) is a traditional way of bowing and paying respect and wishing fortune to elders. Traditionally, one is supposed to perform 세배 (se-bae) while wearing 한복 (hanbok) “traditional Korean clothing”, but in modern times it is quite common for children to perform 세배 (se-bae) in non-traditional clothes.The total amount of 세뱃돈 (se-bae-don) collected can sometimes be quite large (over $1,000 USD), however, children often don’t get to use this money themselves as their parents will frequently hold onto the money and “save” it for their future.


© Sunrise in Korea, Pixabay, Usagi_Post, 28.12.2017,

Watching the First Sunrise on New Year’s Day

On New Year’s Day, it is also very popular for Koreans to watch the first sunrise of the new year. But just watching the sunrise from their house is often not considered meaningful enough, so many Koreans try to find a more special place to watch it. For example, some people will go hiking very early in the morning to find a mountain peak to get a more spectacular view. In Korean, “sunrise” is called 해돋이(hae-dod-i), so when New Year’s is approaching it’s quite common for Koreans to search online for “sunrise spots” 해돋이 명소 (hae-dod-i myeong-so).

New years expression in Korean

The number one expression you will hear in Korea for New Year’s Day is 새해 많이 받으세요! (sae-hae bok manh-i bad-eu-se-yo) which is equivalent to “Happy New Year!” in English. If you analyze the literal meaning of the phrase it means: “Earn a lot of fortune/blessings for New Year’s!”.


© Lucky bag, Blog, 28.12.2017,

The word (bok) means fortune and blessings, which is why on New Year’s, it is common to see beautiful silk bags known as “fortune pouches” 복주머니 (bok-ju-meo-ni) which have the Chinese character for fortune on it “”.

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Article by Sieun Kelly An



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