Thursday, February 3, 2011


Today is officially Korean New Year, or 설날. Birth Father couldn't come in town, but SangKwun and Emily are here. To celebrate, the 4 of us went to Ansan (안산), about an hour outside Seoul, to my 큰 아버지 (or oldest uncle's) house. Before I've kind of commented that my family doesn't seem overly traditional... but this was, by far, the most traditional Korean get-together I've experienced since being here. At Sogang we've learned about Korean 설날 traditions, and we got to experience every single one first-hand. Amazing.

The first difference between Korean holidays and American holidays is the amount of time spent with the family. In American, you get together, eat, hang out a bit and call it a night. (At least my family does.) But in Korea, the family time is looong. Like, we arrived yesterday around 2, and didn't leave until today at 2. Yep, the entire family of 14 spent the night in this 3 bedroom apartment. Talk about getting close quickly.

When we first arrived, it was apparent there was a guys side and a girls side. The guys side had an abundance of beer, fried chicken, and some sort of Korean wrestling on TV.


And the women's side had lots and lots of traditional snacks to prepare. (Our teachers have told us that women tend to hate the holidays because it's so much work. And it really is, the women prepared all the meals, washed the dishes, and basically waited on the men from start to finish. Meanwhile, the men, drank, watched TV, and played games. Something doesn't seem right with this picture...)


First, we made these snacks out of ham, veggies, and crab meat. I was in charge of flouring each piece before it was placed in egg, then fried.


TaDaaa... the finished product. They were delicious.


Next up was shaping these little tofu, meat, and veggie patties. These were also floured, dunked in eggs, and fried.


I didn't get a picture, but lastly we fried some sort of fish in the flour and egg batter.

After we finished, we had a dinner and then played games. The games included all sorts of feats of strength, like who could do the most pull-ups. (Obviously not me. And the bar was too short for Mark.) Then was some good-old fashioned arm wrestling.

The Koreans were all very excited when my cousin beat Markuh... the American.


I am proud to say that I beat my college-aged cousin, but then was soundly defeated by my 16 year old cousin. Ouch.


Then we played the traditional game of 윷노리. This game is kind of like sorry, but instead of dice, you have to throw sticks. It's actually a lot of fun. And even more fun when the uncles sweetened the pot with a 120,000 won (~$120) prize for the winners.

Here was the homemade board with the potential winnings by the side.


You basically just throw the sticks. And the number that land face up decide how many spaces you get to go.


We played two games... my team won one game and Mark's team one once!!! Olleh! :)

After that, it was more snacking and talking and then time for bed.

The next morning, we were woken up at 7 by a loud "일어나!" (or "GET UP") from 큰 아버지 (my oldest uncle). It was time for 새배, or honoring the ancestors.

Basically, a table is filled with food and two places are set for the Grandmother and Grandfather. My family also set a little table to the side with food for the "house spirits." (I hate ghosts and that thought kind of freaked me out to be honest.)


Then, the male cousins (including Mark) went and bowed in front of the table, poured alcohol for the grandparents, and touched three pieces of food for the grandparents to eat.


Then we all bowed twice in front of the table. My 큰 아버지, oldest uncle, even wore his hanbok.


Then we bowed to our aunts and uncles, wished them lots of luck in the New Year, and received money. Normally only children get money for bowing, but I think they made an exception for us.

Then we the food from the table, as well as 떡국, the traditional rice cake soup. It's believed that when you eat this soup on the New Year you turn a year older. So because I ate it, I turned Korean age 31. Ouch. At least it tasted good...


After lunch, we hung out more, played a Korean version of monopoly with my cousins, and finally headed out. But not before taking this family pic.


Happy New Year to everyone! Hope you were able to ring in the Lunar New Year in your own little way, even if it was just ordering Chinese food and eating fortune cookies. :)


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Mica said...

Oh man, this sounds like such a trip! I loved reading this, though I'm sorry that you had to be on the women's side working your fingers to the bone. (Though I bet it was fun for the first time.)

Harrison just laughed out loud about the bar being too short for Mar-kuh.

One of my former (Korean) students invited me to his house last weekend for dduk gook in honor of Sollal. Surprise--his wife did all of the work! Still, it was really nice. :-) That was the extent of my celebration.

(Oh, and my sunsaengnim tried to explain the stick game in Korean. We didn't understand.)

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Moa said...

Great post! By the way, what happened to the food made for the ancestors? Did you eat it?

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