Happy Lunar New Year!

Hope you all had a delicious bowl of rice cake soup, and some sweet cash for bowing to your elders. Here are some old posts about Korea's celebration of lunar new year, and here is one about how North Korea celebrates the lunar new year.

-EDIT- To add a few questions about lunar new year . . .

Dear Korean,

As you may know, Chinese New Year is around the corner and it is widely seen as one of the largest annual celebrations in the world. It got me thinking, is Korean New Year (Seollal) celebrated among Korean's as widely as Chinese New Year among the Chinese? Or has it fallen out of practice like other traditional holidays?

Kevin B.

The Korean is not sure about calling lunar new year as "Chinese New Year" or "Korean New Year," but at any rate, seollal is still very much widely celebrated in Korea.

Dear Korean,

I'm a Korean American who immigrated to the U.S in late 1980. Maybe I'm wrong or just can't remember, but I'm pretty certain that people didn't celebrate Lunar New Year in South Korea back in the 1970s during Park Chung-Hee times. Would you happen to know when Lunar New Year became a holiday in South Korea?


The answer is: 1989.  The Korean previously described the vacillation between solar and lunar new year in Korea. Short version of the story is that, although Koreans traditionally celebrated lunar new year, Japan imposed solar new year in the period leading up to the colonial times. But even after the liberation in 1945, Korea could not completely make up its mind about how many holidays to assign on each new year's day. In 1954, Korean government officially relegated the lunar new year to a regular working day, and instead made solar new year's day a three-day holiday. Subsequent Korean governments tried their best to get Korean people to celebrate the solar new year, by claiming that "double new year's day" [이중과세] was wasteful, and solar new year's day was more modern. This policy continued until 1985.

Promotional cartoon from Korean government, circa 1981
The old man is trying to direct people toward the lunar new year,
but over the shining buildings at the end of the road toward
the direction of "solar new year," it says "Modernization."
But old habits refused to die. In 1985, Korean government made an awkward compromise by designating lunar new year's day as "Folk Tradition Day" [민속의 날], and made it a one-day holiday. In 1989, Korean government finally relented and restored lunar new year's day as the proper "New Year's Day" [seollal, 설날], which was to be a three day holiday. The solar new year's day instead became a two-day holiday. Finally, in 1999, the solar new year's day became a one day holiday, and that is the system that is currently in use.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.