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Korea and Singapore’s New Year Traditions
Written by 임다경 Im Dakyoung | Published. 2018.02.28 16:56 | Count : 748
It is the festive time of the year again -- 설날[Seollal] is here! Seollal, also known as Korean New Year, is the first day of the lunar calendar. Koreans have family gatherings to perform an ancestral ritual called 차례[charye] during this festive season.
Although celebration procedures may differ from family to family, most families firstly carry out the 차례[charye] ritual, with everyone in their 한복[hanbok] attires. We prepare a sumptuous meal for the ancestors and take turns to take two deep traditional bows known as 절[jeol] for the ancestors. The ritual is to express gratitude and show respect to them. Afterwards, family members gather to have a meal, together with the ritual food. The most important dish of the day is 떡국[ttukguk], also known as rice cake soup, is a filling soup made of disc-shaped rice cakes in a clear broth. It is tradition to eat it on New Year’s Day, because it is believed to grant individuals good luck for the year and to gain a year of age. Followed by eating a meal, younger members of the family take a deep traditional bow, called 세배[saebae], wishing the elders good luck and health for the year ahead.
[hanbok, the traditional attire for Seollal]
Many families spend much time before the festive holiday to prepare the food and the gifts. My family gathered a day earlier to prepare ritual food such as 전[jeon] or dumplings. I felt that Seollal was not only time to show respect to the ancestors, but also a chance to bond with family, especially in today’s society where we usually cannot visit our non-immediate families often.
[Preparing jeon, a popular ritual food]
While we celebrate Seollal in Korea, Singapore celebrates Chinese New Year. Otherwise known as Spring Festival (春节), the festive event traditionally serves to honor deities and ancestors. Similar to Seollal, families sit down for a reunion dinner and wish each other for prosperity for the upcoming year. Chinese New Year is a major celebration in China, and it had strong influences on its geographical neighbours on their Lunar New Year celebrations. Some interesting traditions include wearing bright new clothes on the new year day and distributing red packets which contain money that wishes good luck and prosperity. Red is also strongly believed to symbolize good luck and thus is popularly used and worn during this season.
I had a Skype interview with Tang Shih Ann, my close friend from Singapore whose family celebrates Chinese New Year. We discussed about Chinese New Year traditions based on her own experience every year.
[Skype interview with Tang Shih Ann]
Below are some of the questions we considered.
1. In general, what happens during Chinese New Year celebrations? 
My father’s family is in Malaysia and Australia. My mother’s family is in Singapore. Thus, I spend Chinese New Year in Singapore and sometimes in Malaysia. One day before the new year, all family members gather for a sumptuous reunion dinner. However, in Malaysia, it is slightly different because firecrackers are allowed. We usually have fireworks before the reunion dinner and at midnight. There is a row of houses where my family lives in Malaysia and around midnight, every house shoots up firecrackers. There is firework everywhere and it is quite noisy but I love it! When we wake up the next day, we have firecrackers again. For Chinese New Year, we have day one, two and three, known as 初一[chu yi], 初二[chu er],初三[chu san] in Chinese. Basically, we do the same thing everyday, visiting different relatives’ houses and wishing them a happy new year, known as 拜年[bai nian] in Chinese. We exchange greetings and take red packets, also known as ang pao. When I am in Malaysia for Chinese New Year, I cannot visit my mother’s family for celebrations. However, my grandmother collects ang pao for me and I gratefully receive it from her.
[Atmosphere of Chinatown during Chinese New Year, https://www.instagram.com/p/BfTRzSoAgLwiq-ZLHVfLVRPOQ1c3v1VYkM29V40/?taken-by=marzypurrzy ]
2. For Seollal in Korea, families usually meet up a day earlier to prepare ritual food and gifts for the festive holiday together. How do you prepare for Chinese new year?
The day before the first day of Chinese New Year, we thoroughly clean the house to sweep away any ill-fortune and make way for incoming good luck. However, on the actual first day of New Year, we are not allowed to sweep anything because it is believed to bring bad luck. We also put up new year decorations.
3. On Seollal, younger members of the family get to receive saebae money after they take a deep bow and deliver prosperous greetings to the elder. I heard about red packets which take a similar role as saebae money. What is the red packet tradition about?
When we visit houses, we shake hands and share greetings such as ‘新年快乐[xin nian quai le]’,which means happy new year. Then, we get ang pao, and move on to the next member of the family we are visiting. Children and unmarried people receive ang pao. We also hold two oranges, one in each hand, and exchange them when visiting houses. It is believed as exchanging ‘best luck’.
4. What are your favourite Chinese New Year traditions?
I really like the firecrackers and the fireworks. I also like to eat those noodles on the first day of Chinese New Year. Ang paos are one of my favourite traditions too!
[red packets, also known as ang pao]
5. Can you teach me a New Year greeting phrase?
There are a lot of various phrasings that you can use, but I always like to say ‘新年快了, 笑口常开 [xin nian kuai le, xiao kou chang kai]’ which means “happy new year, always smile”.
As learnt from the interview, Chinese New Year is more than just a family festival. It is filled with numerous interesting and meaningful traditions that were passed down from generations to generations.
I think that Chinese New Year is different from Seollal in that Seollal focuses on expressing gratitude to the ancestors and elders while Chinese New Year focuses on wishing each other good luck and honoring deities. Regardless of the difference, both festivals allow family members to gather and share hopes for a prosperous year ahead together with a sumptuous meal. 

Last but not least, I would like to thank Shih Ann for agreeing to answer the interview and provide priceless information about the topic.

임다경 Im Dakyoung
Seoul Daewang Middle School

임다경 Im Dakyoung  student_reporter@dherald.com

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