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Customs and Traditions of the Korean New Year

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Korean Rice Cake Soup

Korean Rice Cake Soup (Duk Gook)

Naomi Imatome

Traditions and Customs

Korean New Year's celebrations begin with everyone wearing traditional dress (hanbok). Since the Korean focus is starting the New Year by reconnecting with family and ancestors, the most ceremonial ritual on New Year's Day is seh bae (a deep bow to the floor). Traditionally, families would begin by doing seh bae to deceased ancestors and making food and drink offerings to the spirits of ancestors (charae). Depending on the family, the seh bae time may just instead start with grown-ups and children bowing and paying respect to their elders, beginning with deep bows to the oldest living generation. Children receive gifts of money and words of wisdom for the New Year, and everyone wishes each other blessings for the New Year (saehae bok manee badesaeyo).

After seh bae, the traditional New Year's meal is a soup of thinly sliced rice cakes (duk gook) or a variation with dumplings. Because everyone turns a year older with the start of each New Year (and not on their birthday), many people tell their children that they can't get older unless they've eaten some duk gook. Some type of Duk (rice cakes, ttuk or tteok) is enjoyed at every important Korean celebration, and the white rice cakes in the soup represent a clean start and new beginning for the New Year.

Following the breakfast or lunchtime meal of duk gook, it's time for a more casual family time. “Family time” obviously varies by family, and could mean traditional outdoor games like kite-flying or noltigi, Korean board games like yutnori (a board game that involves stick-tossing), younger generations playing video or board games together, karaoke, or just conversation and relaxation. If family members are not all gathering in one place, then it also customary for the younger generations to visit older uncles, aunts, and relatives that live close enough to seh bae and give well wishes for the New Year.

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