Last Thursday was the start of the new year on the lunar calendar, also known as Seollal (설날)! It was a very busy holiday for me, as I visited two different families more than 1 and a half hours apart and ate tons of Seollal foods. The morning started off with the family performing Charye (차례), which is a ritual offering food to the ancestors of the family. They set up a table and offered them tons of food and alcohol, and bowed (절) in front of the makeshift shrine. They had to repeat the process for each relevant ancestor. A lot of food was prepared the day before and they make sure to make more than enough to show generosity to their ancestors.
After this ritual, we started off with rice cake soup, or tteok guk (떡국). Once you eat the tteok guk, you are considered one year older by Korean standards. Another very essential food was Jeon (전) which were fried pancake-like foods.
After finishing breakfast, we went to the family’s traditional burial grounds. Originally, I had thought this was just a regular cemetery, so I was confused as to why people started waving to each other as if they knew each other. To my surprise, my friend’s family had royal lineage, so there was a whole burial ground dedicated to her whole extended family! I was so amazed to find out that so much land was used for one family’s burial site. Everyone was in some way related to each other!
We had a picnic and all the family members offered more alcohol and bowed at the burial sites. Some of the members had a drink with them and poured some alcohol in the ground as as offering. We later had a picnic and ate fruits and snacks next to the grave. Afterwards, we had homemade budae jjigae (부대 찌개) and some other leftovers from the morning.
After lunch, we just watched a little bit of tv and bowed to the elders in the family. When you bow to the elders of the family, you receive some money for the new year.
Afterwards, I went all the way to Incheon to have dinner with another friend’s family. It was very interesting to see the differences in food. A lot of the food was the same and there wasn’t anything too different in particular. However, the meal was much more laid back and it seemed like a normal family dinner.
Needless to say, my belly was quite satisfied! I also received tons of leftovers to enjoy for the rest of the week. If you ever get an opportunity to spend such an important holiday in Korea with a Korean family, I highly encourage it!
If you had any similar/differing experiences, let me know in the comments below!