Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year around the World

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 of 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 in the holidays with—as well as stores for your favorite food, games, traditional clothes, and more.

Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year

The Korean Tradition of Seollal

In many Western countries, the New Year is celebrated on January 1st. But rather than follow the Gregorian calendar, some Korean holidays follow the Lunar Calendar, and so the New Year takes place a bit later—usually in early to mid-February.

The Korean Lunar New Year involves everything from house cleaning to family gatherings, ancestral rites, and special meals. While some aspects will differ per village or family, there are some things everyone has in common in South Korea.

For example, after cleaning the house, the jesa table is prepared and the family gets to work putting together traditional food items for the ancestral rite.

On New Year’s Day, the entire family comes together to complete the ceremony. They bow to their ancestors, light incense, and offer drinks and food. During this time, families pray for good luck, health, and prosperity.

Younger members of the family may also show respect to not only their ancestors but also their elders.

After the ceremony, family members come together to eat and spend time together. Some of the most popular food served during the Korean Lunar New Year are:

  • tteokguk, also spelt ddeokguk, rice cake soup
  • mandu, dumplings
  • jeon, a pancake-like dish
  • Galbi jjim, braised beef ribs
  • Japchae, stir-fried sweet potato noodles

Tteokguk used to only be eaten during the New Year, as it was believed that by eating it, you become a year older.

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

On the Korean Lunar New Year, family members young and old also gather together to play games. You can find people playing popular traditional games like yunnori, also called yutnori, yeon nalligi, and jegi chagi throughout the Seollal celebration.

During the New Year Celebration, people may also wear the traditional hanbok. Children often also receive sebaetdon, or New Year money.

Seollal: Celebrating Korean New Year - city view

Celebrating Seollal Abroad

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

That said, it’s still possible to find Korean New Year celebrations to attend. For example, many universities that have Korean students or a Korean studies department may host a Seollal party with traditional food and activities.

Many times, these organizations will 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:

You can also find out more about Seollal activities in your specific city or region through joining local Korean meetups, associations, or Facebook groups.

However, Seollal is largely celebrated at home. After cleaning your place, you can complete your ancestral rites and cook traditional food.

If your family stayed 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 be happy to celebrate the New Year.

Finding the ingredients for your favorite Seollal dishes is easier than ever. There are many Korean-owned stores that 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 such as Amazon carry traditional games like yunnori, and retailers like The Korean In Me or Hanbok Sarang sell traditional and modern hanbok.

You can also choose to celebrate with your family members 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 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.

Download our app to learn more.

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