Spotlight On Korea: How Do Koreans Celebrate Lunar New Year?

Widely celebrated across East Asia, Lunar New Year is an annual traditional holiday where many Koreans visit family, eat traditional food and perform ancestral rites.

Korean New Year, generally referred to as Seollal, is the first day of the Korean calendar. The holiday is widely regarded as the most important traditional Korean holiday, with the celebration itself lasting three days: the day before Korean New Year, Korean New Year, and the day after Korean New Year.

This year’s Korean New Year is on Friday, 12th February 2021, and will begin the Year of the Ox which will run through until 31st January 2022 as Koreans follow a zodiac similar to the Chinese zodiac.

The Lunar New Year is a family-orientated holiday, which is used by many to return to their hometown in order to visit their parents and other relatives. As the holiday is one of the few times per year families are able to get together, for many Koreans it is of upmost importance to attend the celebrations, even if it requires travel overseas.

During the first morning of the holiday, Koreans pay their respects towards their ancestors. An ancestorial rite is practiced, whereby traditional food is placed on a table as an offering to the ancestors and deep bows are offered from all of the family members.

This time is also used for Koreans to pray for their family members. Following the rite, families join together in a large feast.

Many Koreans will dress up traditional Korean clothing known as Hanbok, which are typically worn for special occasions such as weddings and the Lunar New Year. However, due to westernisation, much of the younger generation prefer wearing modern attire.

Cute little boy in a Korean traditional costume.

Traditional folk games are often associated with the holiday, particularly the family board game yut (or yut nori) which is occasionally enjoyed within our own movement.

Koreans enjoy a wide variety of different foods over the Lunar New Year. Tteokguk (soup with sliced rice cakes) is traditionally eaten during the New Year as it signifies you growing one year older. Other goods eaten during the holidays include jeon (savoury pancake), ddeok (rice cakes), mandu-guk (dumpling soup) and japchae (glass noodles).

Despite the holiday being observed by many Koreans for hundreds of years, it was only in 1985 that it was officially recognized as a nation-wide holiday.

This was because while Korea was under Japanese imperialist rule from 1895 to 1945, the holiday was regarded as a morally and economically wasteful holiday in Korea.

As South Korea moved towards a more democratic society in the 1980s, public pressure led to the Lunar New Year being added to the federal calendar as a three-day period.

The Lunar New Year effectively means Koreans celebrate two New Year holidays, however the extent to which each is observed depends on the individual and family.  

For more information on the holiday, please visit:

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