A little late, you think? Not really. Because in Korea, the lunar new year holiday called Seollal (설날) starts tomorrow and lasts through Monday, giving the hard-working Koreans four whole days off. While this sounds lovely, the truth is that this season brings as much stress to Koreans as Christmas can bring in the cultures, where Christmas is the main family holiday. Traveling across the country to see relatives and be interrogated by your extended family on when you find a job, or when you get promoted, or when you get married, or when you have a child, or when you have another child does not sound very relaxing to me.
For this reason, many younger Koreans opt for traveling abroad during the holidays. With four whole days off, there is just enough time for a quick getaway to Vietnam, the Philippines, or Malaysia.
Going abroad and getting away from it all seems less stressful than spending hours in a car on jam-packed roads snailing forward at what sometimes seems like walking speed. Leading up to the holidays, Korean news outlets frequently report on expected travel durations from Seoul to other Korean cities.
For those Koreans who stay and go through the traditional Seollal celebration, it usually includes visiting grandparents, and other relatives, and gathering over a large meal. Many families also prepare a small altar where they put out food in front of pictures of their ancestors and bow to them. A classic meal that is a must during Seollal is ddeokguk, a clear rice cake soup made with beef broth.
Each Seollal holiday marks the beginning of a new year according to the Chinese zodiac, where each year is represented by an animal. This year is the year of the rat (so was the year I was born), and all over Seoul you can find rat-themed merchandise in celebration of the new year. You can check your own animal, called 띠 (ddi) in Korean in the picture below.
Just like Koreans great each other with a Happy New Year on January 1st, they do the same for Seollal, so with that greeting I will wish you all a happy and prosperous year of the rat.
새해 복 많이 받으세요! (Saehae bok mani badeseyo) Happy New Year!