KOREAN CULTURE: New Year's Day (4)

Seollal (설날) and Ggachi Seollal (까치설날, Magpies' New Year’s Day) 


Seollal by Yun Geugyeong (1927)


Yun Geugyeong (1903~1988)  wrote the first Korean nursery song, bandal (반달, “the half moon”) in 1924 when Korea was occupied by Japan.  The Korean Heritage, a special documentary aired on KBS (1/30/2011~2/5/2011), featured the late Yun’s interview in which he said he had started writing Korean nursery songs for Korean children who had no other songs than Japanese songs to sing along.  At that time, the use of the Korean language was officially banned, so it meant a lot to write nursery songs in Korean for kids who were about to learn to talk - to spread the language to the next generation(s).  His Seollal was written in the same spirit of the resistance to the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1927.  The song vividly portrayed the traditional Korean customs and also people’s sentiment at that time – a hope for the nation’s independence.

In Korean dictionaries, ggachi Seollal is defined as children’s word for lunar New Year’s Eve, or seoddal geumeum (섣달 그믐) in native Korean.  In ancient Korean, lunar New Year’s Eve, or ggachi Seollal, was called Syeol which means “small.”   The Korean linguist Seo Jungbum proposed that there was no such word as ggachi seollal when Yun Geugyeong’s Soellal came out but the word achi seollal was used for the lunar New Year’s Eve.  The word achi also means “small,” just like syeol, and in the Gyeonggido Province of Korea, it is pronounced as ggachi.  Seo thought Yun had been influenced by the Gyeonggido dialect, hence used ggachifor achi; and later it was misinterpreted by Korean people as meaning ggachi, a magpie.  But Seo’s explanation is not open-and-shot, either.


In Korea, magpies have been considered auspicious.


Whatever the truth is, however, the song, Seollal, beautifully and truthfully depicts a scene in which a family brings in lunar New Year, or what they do on lunar New Year’s Morning.  The narrator of the song is a girl and she has two sisters, one older and the other younger.  She says a lovely pigtail ribbon (daenggi, 댕기) is for her hair and a new pair of shoes are hers to wear; and her big sister’s hanbok top (jeogori, 저고리) is yellow while her little sister’s has multi-colored striped sleeves, i.e. saekdong jeogori (색동저고리).  The narrator is describing seolbim (설빔, new clothes for New Year) in which bim means “new clothes.” It is customary that nubile girls wear a yellow jeogori and crimson chima(치마, skirt) (Picture) and saekdong jeogori is for little girls (Picture).  She says the girls are giving their parents big Seollal bows, saebae (세배), all dressed in seolbim and that makes her parents so pleased.  Then she and her big sister go outside and place a see-saw plank board in the backyard to play Neolddwigi (널뛰기, a see-saw jumping).  She says today, her otherwise austere father is softened and her crybaby little sister does not cry; and she can overhear neighbors’ playing Yunnori and Neolddwigi.  She concludes all these things make her so happy and this is why she loves Seollal so much.


Middle school students' report on Neolddwigi


Professional Neolddwigi


Yunnori or Yutnori