(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) — Those visiting South Korea for the Olympics may be confused to find stores closed on Thursday and Friday. Friday is the Lunar New Year, a legal holiday in South Korea. South Korean athletes competing in Pyeongchang celebrated Lunar New Year together in Korea House on Friday morning.
A regular Lunar New Year in South Korea involves family members gathering in one home — usually the elder member’s house, though some families take turns hosting — and preparing a memorial ceremony meal together. Various kinds of mouthwatering Korean dishes are cooked, including several pan-fried delicacies called jeon, along with fruit and traditional sweets.
The ceremony style differs from town to town and family to family; many homes have scaled down the ceremony to a dinner or family trip.
An important dish that cannot be missed for the Korean New Year is rice cake soup, called tteok-guk. This filling soup is made of thin, circular rice cakes boiled in clear broth, often served with slices of beef and vegetable garnish. There are a few hypotheses to the origin of this dish. Some say the disc-shaped rice cake symbolizes coins, and eating the soup promises a prosperous year. Others say you grow a year older after finishing a bowl of this rice cake soup.
After the ceremony and meal comes the best moment of the day for children: Youngsters in a family bow to the elderly, and they grant the children a word of advice and — and why many long for the new year to come so badly — pocket money. This custom has been around for more than 100 years, according to South Korean local press Newsis.
Adults used to give nickels and dimes to young people to buy books and pens. This small pleasure was handed down as a traditional event during new year gatherings. Thanks to developed technology, some now send the new year pocket money via online payment, reducing the need for paper packaging.
To break the ice between distant relatives who haven’t met for months, South Koreans spend time playing board games during the holidays. YutNori is a board game that has been around since the early 1900s and can be enjoyed regardless of age and gender. Kite flying is also a popular sport during the holiday; usually new year wishes are written on kites before flying them.
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