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Seol-lal(Korean New year’s Day)

Koreans usually celebrate a new year twice a year: One is January 1 in the Gregorian calendar and the other is January 1 in the lunar calendar. And January 1 in the lunar calendar is설 the biggest holiday of the year in Korea.

Today, according to the ‘Seollal’ (New Year’s Day), the front and the back of the year are designated as public holidays. People go to their hometown to spend New Year’s Day with their families.

The reason for being called the ‘Seol’

There are many different views on the origin of the word ‘ Seol ‘.

The first of these was the idea that the word ‘설(Seol)’ originated form the word  ‘낯설다_Nachseloda)(which means strange or unfamiliar)’.

The second view is that the word ‘설 (seol)’ originated from the word ‘선다’ which means start. And the other view is that it originated from an old saying

The custom of Seollal

In the morning of 설날(Seollal), people get up early and wear ‘설빔(Seolbim)’(new cloth for 설날).  Families gather to perform ancestral rites and pay respect to their ancestors.  This is the expression of appreciation and reverence to ancestors.

After ancestral rites, Korean exchange New Year’s greetings (it have been called ‘세배(Sebae)’). A long time ago, Sebae was a custom of bowing to God in heaven. it has been changed to a custom that shows respect to adults as it is today. And Koreans eat rice cake soup (It is called tteokguk.) made with white bar rice cakes in the New Year.

Why do Korean eat rice cake soup on the Seol-lal?

There are three origins of eating rice cake soup.


  1. They eat it as a meaning to start a clean year.
  2. They eat in the hope of a long life like long bar rice cake which is called ‘Galaetteog’
  3. The shape of the rice cake was like a coin (coin used during the Goryeo and Joseon periods), and Koreans ate rice cake soup in the hope that their wealth would increase.

A bowl of rice cake soup is a year old.

on the Lunar New Year’s Day , Koreans ate rice cake soup without fail. so Rice cake soup was nicknamed ” cheomsebyeong which means rice cake that add age to one’s age ” . In Yeoryangseigi (1819), which was recorded during the Joseon Dynasty, is written as follows.

“On New Year’s Eve we had a bowl of rice cake soup. This is called tteokguk.  When asked how old you are, how many bowls of rice cake have you eaten?”

So these days, instead of asking “how old are you?” when adults ask their age, they ask, “How many bowls of ‘tteokguk’ have you eaten?”.