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Anytime, Anywhere, Happy New Year’s Day

Different Culture, Different New Year’s Day

The origin of Koreans celebrating New Year's Day goes back to the Silla period. According to Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms,
“People celebrated the New Year's Day on the first day of the year during the reign of King Beecher of Shilla.”
Through the long history of our nation, New Year’s Day has remained a national holiday.
The significance of the family gathering and sharing well-wishing remarks has not changed,
but the culture and the way people celebrate the New Year are gradually changing.
So, in February, the month of the Lunar New Year's Day, let’s take a look at the changes occurring in our
New Year's Day culture, as well as the culture of overseas celebration of New Year's Day.
Article: Editor’s Office

There were times when we couldn’t call Lunar New Year’s Day our New Year’s Day

Do you know that Korea underwent a turbulent history until it took the name of New Year's Day? In 1896, starting with the Eulmi Reform, the official New Year's Day of Korea changed from January 1 of the lunar calendar to January 1 of the solar calendar. At that time, Japan prohibited Korean people from celebrating the Lunar New Year’ Day, thereby trying to sever the soul and spirit of our people, and called it “New Year’s Day by the old calendar (Gugeong)” in the sense of an old New Year’s day. They also sprayed squid ink on people who went on trips or visited hometown to celebrate the Lunar New Year’s Day.

However, this trend did not change even after the liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation. The government at that time only acknowledged the New Year’s Day by the solar calendar saying that it was like celebrating two New Years if we celebrate the lunar and solar New Year. However, many Korean people still wanted to celebrate the Lunar New Year, so in 1985 the government set the day of the Lunar New Year as a holiday named “Folk Day.” Four years later, the name was changed to “New Year’s Day,” and designated it as a three-day holiday. During the nation's turbulent Japanese colonial history, even the name of the New Year’s Day was taken away and it was called “Lunar New Year’s Day by the old calendar” or “Folk Day.” However, the people have retained New Year's Day, and continue to wait for New Year's Day with anticipation every year.

From Paintings to Drones, New Year's Gifts Reflecting Changing Fashions and Tastes

'Sehwa (New Year’s painting)’ is the most influential origin of the custom of giving and receiving New Year's gifts. The Academy of Painting, the government office in charge of poetry and paintings during the Joseon Dynasty, presented paintings, sehwa, which served as amulets in the New Year to the king. It is said that the king gave the sehwa back to his servants (public officers) to celebrate the New Year. Following this, paintings also came to be exchanged among civilians, which became the origin of the practice of presenting New Year's gifts.

However, as the years passed, so did the nature of the New Year's gift. In the 1970s, when industrialization was in full swing, gift sets containing various everyday necessities such as toothpaste, soap, and cooking oil were introduced, and in the 1980s, gift sets were diversified to contain ham, coffee, and tuna. Expensive meat and fruit sets were also launched. In the 1990s, gift certificates became popular, while in the 2000s, health foods, household medical devices, wine, and even drones are being exchanged as New Year’s gifts.

The New Year's gift reflects not only the fashions and trends of an era, but also changing personal tastes and needs.

Consumer Price Index reflected in the New Year’s Gift of Money given to Juniors; how much is Handsel in 2021?

Along with the New Year's gift, one of the most representative New Year customs is the “New Year’s Gift of Money given to Juniors (Handsel)” a tradition that goes back to the Joseon Dynasty in its origins. It is said that the king gave four Jeju island oranges to each of the public officers in celebrating the New Year.

It is known that the custom of directly giving and receiving handsel as it is done now originally came from China and Japan during the Late Joseon Dynasty. And as the economy grew and the value of money changed, so did the amount of handsel. In the 1960s, usually 10 won was given as handsel, but according to an article published in a daily newspaper in the 1970s, handsel was “50 won for children under the age of 7, and 100 won for elementary school students, and 100 to 200 won for middle and high school students.” At that time, it is said that a bowl of jjajangmyeon noodles cost 30 won.

However, following Korea's hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, prices surged, and handsel gifts also rose to 5,000 won. In the 1990s, the formula of “handsel is 10,000 won” even became common. There is a news article reporting that handsel went down to 5,000 won as a result of the Asian financial crisis. As the economy gradually recovered, in 2009, with the release of the 50,000-won, the highest-denominated bill, handsel increased again. So, what is the appropriate amount of handsel as of 2021? For a person who gives the handsel, it would be convenient if someone else determines the amount. For reference, according to a survey conducted by an Internet portal two years ago, it was found that it is 10,000 won for elementary school students and 50,000 won for middle and high school students.

New Year's Food and Play Reflecting Personality and Taste

On Lunar New Year's Day last year, a vegetarian family offering a “Vegan memorial service table” was aired on local TV news. It has been quite a while since other news was aired that instead of offering an expensive memorial service table, people set the memorial service table with ordered food. The custom of serving tteokguk (rice-cake soup)’, the representative food of New Year's Day, also changed. During the Late Goryeo Dynasty, pheasant meat was used to cook tteokguk, but now beef and chicken, and even instant beef bone broth, are used to cook soup for tteokguk. You can also choose rice cakes, mixed grain rice cakes, and diet konjac rice cakes according to your taste. Some people feel like enjoying holiday with the rice cake soup cup ramen that is ready in three minutes.

In a similar sense, the playing culture of New Year's Day is also changing. In the past, family members played a game of yut, a kicking shuttlecock game, and kite-flying ─ but now there are some people who enjoy playing mobile games with their own mobile phones or game consoles connected to TV. Now, they also fly drones instead of kites. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unavoidable to stay at home, so the playing culture is likely to continue for a while; and as drones can only be flown with a legal license, I think I would be satisfied with a mini drone! Nevertheless, it is a clear that the trends of eating and playing have changed from house to house according to preferences and tastes.

How is New Year's Day Celebrated Overseas?

As our New Year's Day is celebrated on the lunar calendar every year, the date of New Year’s Day is different in each country. Depending on each tradition and religion, people are celebrating the Lunar New Year and the Solar New Year, and some countries even consider March and April as the beginning of their New Year.

And, like our Tteokguk, each country has popular and representative foods that are eaten on New Year's Day. Just as our Tteokguk contains the wish for disease-free longevity, Japanese eats “Toshikoshi soba,” which means ‘year-crossing noodles.' Like long thin noodles, it conveys the meaning of wishing for the longevity of the family. In Austria, people eat pork or exchange pig-shaped gifts during the New Year. This is because a pig is an animal that can only walk forward symbolizing development and progress. In Spain, there is a custom called “Las Uvas,” whereby people eat 12 grapes in the New Year. The 12 grapes symbolize 18 months, and people believe that eating all 12 grapes before the end of the 12 bells ringing at 0 o'clock on January 1 will bring good luck.

In contrast, it seems that it is common throughout the world that people wonder about the fortune of the coming year. Just as we foretell the fortune of the New Year on the Internet, during the Joseon Dynasty people told fortunes using a ‘yut-jeom’ that tells fortune of the year by throwing a yut. In Germany, there is a custom of ‘Bleigiessen.’ Small chunks of lead are melted in a spoon held over the candle on the last day of December, and each person tries to tell his/her fortune with the shape of the hardened lead figure. Nowadays, people use wax instead of lead for health reasons. In India, family members cook milk porridge together during the New Year, and people believe that if the milk porridge is boiled well, happiness will come. In Vietnam, it is believed that the first visitor on the first day of the New Year determines the fortune of the year, so people invite loved one in advance.

Besides, the way to play in the New Year also varies among countries. For example, in Iran, the New Year's Day falls on March 21, when people clean their homes and put on new clothes for the New Year. It is the biggest shopping day of the year, including buying new clothes for children and buying housekeeping for the house. In the Netherlands, there is also a unique culture of holding a swimming competition to greet the New Year to wash away bad memories and start a New Year. Songkran (April 13) is a watering festival in Thailand, which is the first day of the New Year on the Thai calendar, to pray for health and happiness, and it is famous enough to attract people from all over the world.

So far, we have taken a look at how our New Year's Day culture has evolved according to the changing times, while recognizing the foreign cultures' traditions of celebrating the New Year's Day that are often different from ours. However, no matter how different and changing, there is one thing we share in common. It is the fact that New Year's Day is a joyful day for the whole world to wish for happiness and health in the year. We now have that New Year's Day. So, I wish everyone to enjoy a very happy New Year!

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