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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in South Korea Series on KoreanClass101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Korean holidays and observances. I’m Brandon, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 1: New Year’s Day.
Unlike Western countries, Koreans celebrate New Year's Day 설날 (seolnal) on the first day of the lunar calendar, not the solar calendar. Because these two calendars don’t align, New Year’s Day in Korea differs each year. For example, in 2013, it was on February 10th, and in 2014, it was on January 31st.
Korean people dress up on New Year’s Day in traditional clothes called 설빔 (seol bim) to celebrate the passing of the old year and the start of a new, fresh year. On New Year’s Day, families typically come together at the home where the parents live. The family gathers for the New Year’s bow, known as 세배 (sebae), and younger members of the family bow to the elders. The family also performs a ceremony to honor their ancestors, known as 제사 (jesa). This holiday carries a lot of meaning for Korean people and is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year.
Now, before we go into more detail, do you know the answer to this question: what is the most crowded place in Korea on New Year’s Day?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
The New Year greeting is very important. The 세배 (sebae), mentioned earlier, is the first greeting of the New Year. To do this, Korean people typically get down on their knees, and bow their heads to the ground. Then, they say, "Happy New Year,” or 새해 복 많이 받으세요. (saehae bok mani badeuseyo.) when they bow.
And here’s a bit more detail about 제사 (jesa). It’s a traditional ritual to greet one’s ancestors. It involves putting together a table of carefully prepared foods and asking one’s ancestors to watch over the family during the New Year. During this ceremony, Koreans usually display their ancestors' favorite foods along with basic dishes, such as meat, 고기 (gogi), noodles, 국수 (guksu), and Korean pancakes, 부침개 (buchimgae). In the middle of the table, Koreans usually place a picture of their ancestors or a little wooden sign called 신위 (sinwi). Then all the family members make a big bow or 큰 절(keun jeol) together toward the table.
After the memorial, the family comes together to eat a special dish, called 떡국 (ddeok-guk). This is a type of soup made with thin rice-cake pieces in broth. In South Korea, everyone eats this soup on the morning of New Year's Day. Do you know why? In Korean, when you become one year older, you say, "I ate one more year," 한 살 더 먹었다 (hansal deo meoggeotta) using the same verb that means “to eat food.” 먹다 (meoktta) So, Korean people eat a bowl of this soup on New Year's Day to represent growing one more year in age. Everyone in Korea becomes one year older on New Year's Day, no matter the date of their actual birthday.
Here's our fun fact for the day! Did you know that you’ll hear a special song on New Year’s Day in Korea? If you’re watching television, you’ll hear a song that’s only played on this day. Its lyrics mean something like this: “까치 까치 설날은 어저께구요, 우리우리 설날은 오늘이래요.” (kkachi kkachi seolnareun eojeokkeguyo, uriuri seolnareun oneuriraeyo.) It means “The magpie New Year’s Day was yesterday, and our New Year’s Day is today.”
The "magpie day” or 까치 까치 설날 (kkachi kkachi seolal) means “small New Year’s Day,” which represents the solar calendar New Year on January 1st. So the lyrics mean that the lunar year date of January 1st or 음력 설날 (eumyreok seolnal) is considered our “real” New Year's Day. This just goes to show how much emphasis Koreans put on the lunar calendar date!
Now it’s time to answer our quiz question: what is the most crowded place in Korea on New Year’s Day? It’s the highway. Almost half of the Korean population lives in and around Seoul, so many people need to travel by car to get to their families’ homes elsewhere in the country. Sometimes it can take more than ten times longer than usual to drive there. Nowadays, it’s becoming more common for older family members to travel up to Seoul to save time.
Well, listeners, how was it? Did you learn something new?
In your country, do you have any interesting New Year's traditions?
Please leave us a comment at KoreanClass101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!