Lunar New Year’s Day, or Seollal, is one of the two biggest holidays in Korea and falls on Jan. 25 this year.
A Korea.net staff writer picked the following keywords to show the differences in how South and North Korea celebrate Seollal based on the Ministry of Unification’s website for information on the North.
# New year’s greetings
When meeting people on Seollal, South Koreans say “Saehae bok mani badeuseyo (May you receive lots of luck in the new year),” while North Koreans say “Saehaereul chuckhahabnida (Congratulations on the new year).”
# 2 New Year’s Days
North Korea celebrates two New Year’s Days.
North Korea’s founder Kim II Sung called Seollal a vestige of feudal society and thus his people could not openly celebrate the holiday until 1989, when Seollal was restored as a holiday to pass on tradition. Though the North’s government from 2003 started to host national events originally held on Jan. 1 on Lunar New Year’s Day, many North Koreans still perform charye (ancestral rites) on Jan. 1 because of decades of following tradition based on the solar calendar.
# Mass migration
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Unlike South Korea, where people have to struggle to get train tickets or endure clogged highways to visit their hometowns on Seollal every year, North Korea has no such mass migration. Because traveling to one’s hometown by train or car in the North is difficult, North Koreans simply spend the holiday at home.
# New custom
Koreans on both sides of the Korean Peninsula set a charye table, perform sebae (new year’s prostration) and wish each other luck in the new year. A relatively new custom has appeared in the North, however. Before observing this custom, North Koreans lay flowers and pay respect in front of the statues of their late former presidents Kim II Sung and Kim Jong il.
# Special dish
In South Korea, the dish many eat on Lunar New Year’s Day is tteokduk (sliced rice cake soup). North Korea, however, has a variety of dishes to eat for the occasion depending on region and its products such as tteokguk, manduguk (dumpling soup), dwaejigukbap (pork and rice soup), songpyeon (moon-shaped rice cake), nokdujijim (mung bean pancakes) and noodles.
Though 75 years of national division have led to Seollal customs that differ a bit on both sides of the peninsula, the two Koreas share many customs to say goodbye to the old year and greet the new year.