Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year around the World

Last updated on March 8th, 2024 at 02:30 pm

From everyone here at Remitly — Happy Korean Lunar New Year to our customers worldwide!

Koreans working and living abroad have fostered international trade and played a crucial role in funding developments at home. Today, around seven million Koreans live outside their homeland in places like China, the United States, Japan, and Canada, among many others.

If you are one of the millions of Korean expats working abroad, you may be looking for ways to connect with those back home — especially during the holidays. Seollal, or called Seol-Nal, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Korea, may not be celebrated with as much fanfare abroad as it is at home. Even in China, which celebrates its own Chinese Lunar New Year, there are key differences between the celebrations.

The good news is you can have a festive Seollal no matter where you are in the world.

Since there are Korean communities across the globe, you can find people to share the holidays with—as well as stores for your favorite food, games, traditional clothes, and more.

Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year

When is Korean New Year?

We already touched on this, but the Korean Lunar New Year is called Seollal in South Korea, and it’s one of the most important traditional Korean holidays.

In many Western countries, the New Year is celebrated on January 1st. But rather than follow the Gregorian calendar, some Korean holidays like Seollal follow the Korean lunar calendar.

Korean New Year takes place on the first day of the new lunar cycle, which is timed based on the date of the second new moon after the winter solstice. As a result, Seollal falls on the same day as Chinese New Year in late January or early February.

Like the Chinese, Koreans link the lunar years with zodiac signs. Each year has a different animal based on a cycle of 12, and some people believe that the sign that you’re born under impacts your personality. Consequently, some Koreans plan the birth year for their children based on the zodiac.

In 2024, Seollal, or Korean New Year, will occur on February 10 and will mark the start of the Year of the Dragon.

How do South Koreans say “Happy New Year”?

If you wish to give people a greeting on Korean New Year’s Eve or Korean New Year Day, you can say “saehae bok mani badeuseyo” (pronounced SAY-hay bok MAH-nee bah-DEU-say-yo). When translated from Korean, this phrase means, “I wish you good luck in the New Year.”

Is the New Year Seollal celebration a national holiday in South Korea?

In South Korea, the Korean Lunar New Year is a public holiday. People usually receive three days off: New Year’s Eve and the first two days of the new lunar calendar. Schools and government offices also close on these dates.

Seollal traditions

To welcome the New Year, Koreans participate in a number of traditions. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.


During the days that lead up to the new year, Koreans often clean their homes from top to bottom. Doing so is meant to symbolize washing away the previous year and opening the doors to good fortune in the one ahead.

Completing the charye ceremony

After cleaning the house, the jesa table is prepared, and the family gets to work putting together traditional food items for the rite of charye, a way to pay tribute to ancestors.

On New Year’s Day, the entire family comes together to complete the ceremony. First, a paper bearing the names of ancestors is placed on the table. Next, everyone honors the ancestors by bowing deeply to the jesa table. They might also light incense.

After bowing, female relatives serve food to the ancestors and their male relatives. Families pray for good luck, health, and prosperity, and the ceremony concludes by burning the paper placed on the table at the start of charye.

Eating traditional Korean food

Food is an important part of Korean culture, and so it’s no surprise that a meal is one of the key parts of one of Korea’s most important traditional holidays. After the Korean New Year celebration honoring ancestors, families come together to eat and spend time together. Some of the most popular traditional foods served during the Korean Lunar New Year are:

  • Tteokguk: Soup made with sliced rice cake patties called tteok or ddeok
  • Mandu: Korean dumplings
  • Jeon: A pancake-like dish
  • Galbi jjim: Braised beef ribs
  • Japchae: Stir-fried sweet potato noodles
  • Dasik: Tea cookies
  • Yakgwa: Traditional sweets made with honey

Tteokguk rice cake soup was once only eaten during the New Year, as it was believed that you become a year older by eating it.

While you can now buy these rice cakes throughout the year, they are still most commonly associated with Seollal.

Playing folk games

After eating tteokguk rice cake soup or another main dish, many Koreans play traditional folk games together. Some traditional games that are popular additions to Korean Lunar New Year celebrations include:

  • Yutnori: A board game where two teams take turns dropping four sticks
  • Jegichagi: A game similar to hackeysack where players hit a shuttlecock-like item called a jegi
  • Neolttwigi: A test of balance where people stand on a seesaw-like apparatus and take turns jumping
  • Paengichigi: A game played with spinning tops
  • Gongginori: A game similar to jacks

Showing respect to elders

On the first day of the new year, most families will conduct the sebae ritual, a way of eldering the eldest members of the family and wishing them good fortune for the year ahead.

Children gather before the oldest family members and perform a deep traditional bow. Then, elders typically reward the deep bows by giving the children sebaet don or New Year’s money in beautiful silk bags.

After the Lunar New Year celebrations, Korean children may spend their new year’s pocket money on toys and traditional games or save it for the future.

Wearing traditional clothing

On the first morning of the new year, Koreans often dress in traditional clothing called hangbok. However, some may greet the special holiday simply by wearing brand-new clothes.

If you visit Korea for the Lunar New Year and are invited to a Seollal celebration, you can feel free to dress in traditional Korean or everyday clothes.

Kite flying

To chase away bad luck and invite a prosperous year, many Korean people participate in Yeonnalligi, or kite flying, on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Although men and boys typically perform the activity, women and girls will sometimes participate as well.

Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year - city view

Celebrating Seollal Abroad

Since Seollal is largely a family holiday, celebrating it abroad is fairly easy. However, Koreans living in countries that don’t widely celebrate the Lunar New Year may not have the day off.

Attend a traditional celebration

That said, finding Korean New Year events to attend is still possible. For example, many universities with Korean students or a Korean studies department may host a Seollal party with traditional foods and activities.

These organizations often partner with the King Sejong Institute to host the festivities. Auburn University is one such example.

And there are sources for Korean communities no matter where they are. Some examples include:

By joining local Korean meetups, associations, or Facebook groups, you can also learn more about Seollal activities on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in your specific city or region.

Celebrate the New Year holiday at home

Although attending gatherings can be a great way to welcome the new year, Seollal is largely celebrated at home, even abroad. After cleaning your place, you can complete your ancestral rites and cook traditional food.

If your family stays back in Korea, you can invite your friends and neighbors over for a potluck to celebrate. Many locals enjoy learning about Korean customs and would happily celebrate the New Year.

Finding the ingredients for your favorite New Year food is easier than ever. Many Korean-owned stores sell authentic products and ingredients. In fact, there is a complete grocery directory for Korean groceries outside of South Korea.

Some popular online South Korean groceries in the United States alone are:

International online marketplaces like Amazon carry traditional games like yunnori, and retailers like The Korean In Me or Hanbok Sarang sell traditional and modern hanboks.

You can also celebrate with your family online during the Korean New Year. It’s now possible to do more than talk online—you can send e-cards, play games, watch your favorite movies, or listen to music together.

And if you can’t travel home for the Seollal holiday, you can still send a Seollal gift—whether it be an item or money—to those you love.

Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year - food

Give Your Loved Ones a Seollal Gift with Remitly

To celebrate the Korean New Year, why not send family members a little surprise?

Whether you are sending your younger family members sebaetdon or forwarding money for other gifts, you need a transfer method that will give you peace of mind.

With Remitly, you can send money home to South Korea securely. We use a simple pricing structure so you can send more won home per US dollar. You can also track your money transfer and opt to get updates.