Lunar New Year in South Korea

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About the Lunar Calendar

The Lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon which means that each Lunar year is about 12.37 months. This means that it does not track with the 12-month Gregorian calendar. Many different religions and cultures still use the Lunar Calendar for holidays, birthdays, and events. Korea uses a mix of the Gregorian and Lunar Calendar within the Korean culture.

About Lunar New Year in South Korea

The Lunar New Year changes each year and usually occurs in January or February. Depending on how the holidays fall, Koreans may have 3-5 days holiday during this time.

In Korea, and across Asia, the culture places more of a focus on the Lunar New Year than the Western New Year. Here in Korea, we refer to Lunar New Year as Seollal (설날). You may have also heard this holiday called Chinese New Year.

Seollal is one of the biggest, most important holidays in Korea. During this time (about 3 days), Korean’s will move around Korea visiting their ancestrol homes and participating in various traditions depending on their religious and cultural commitments. Families will spend time together, prepare special foods, give gifts, and some may perform traditional rituals.

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In addition to celebrating Seollal day, Seotdal Geumeum is also celebrated. Seotdal Geumeum is Lunar New Year Eve. On this day, many people may stay up until dawn to watch the sunrise (similar to how western new year is celebrated in Korea, but at home). On this day, people in Korea will often eat bokmandu soup.

Things to Do for Seollal

We highly recommend joining in local customs when living in a foreign country. It brings you closer to those around you and creates a feeling of belonging that doesn’t happen when you only celebrate holidays from home. If you would like to join in the spirit of Seollal, here are some things you can do:

  • Play yunnori
  • Eat tteokguk
  • Eat manduguk
  • Give children gifts
  • Honor family history and parents
  • Send Seollal greeting so family and friends (Kakao has great messages for this)

About Seollal (Lunar New Year) Traffic

Since students are not in school, this means many families travel and the roads may be locked with traffic, and train tickets may sell out months in advance. On the first day of the holiday, traffic will be terrible going East and South. On the last day of the holiday, traffic will be terrible going north and west.

We recommend using Naver Maps and Kakao Maps for routing information during this time as they have up-to-date traffic information that may help you avoid the worst traffic (although avoiding all bad traffic may be impossible.)

What is Closed for Seollal?

Expect service interutptions during this holiday. Banking or immigration issues handled before the holiday. Public services will usually take a rest during this time. Additionally, small shops and businesses will often take time off, usually two days max. If you want to know if a specific place or service will be open on Seollal, you can contact 1330.

Seollal Near US Bases Such as Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Force Base

Service providers near US military bases often adjust to US culture. This means that businesses in such areas may remain open and operational during the Seollal holiday. Such changes in cultural behavior near large populations of international residents may distort perceptions related to the meaning and importance of local customs and holidays in relation to the country as a whole. That is because such areas may actually become busier during Korean holidays as folks flock to these open areas looking for things to do since their own areas are mostly closed down.