Korean New Year (Take #1)

A portrait from Brooklyn and Korea

This Lunar New Year, we have reached out several people of Korean descent here in Brooklyn to ask them what Korean New Year traditions they hold dear, and how the traditions have evolved or remained the same over the years.

Many people know of Lunar New Year only as Chinese New Year, and there is that connection (not the least of which is because it’s based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar), but there are also many other varied and rich traditions for Lunar New Year.




First up, is a lovely reflection by a neighborhood friend RS.  I hope we can dig out some photos of the hanboks she wore or dduks she ate but in the meantime her beautiful words will suffice.

For me, Korean New Year, which we have always celebrated on the calendar new year, has been perhaps the only “official” time and an opportunity for me to honor my parents. I didn’t grow up in Korea or around any Koreans at all, so the idea of dressing up in traditional costume and bowing was magical as a child, tedious as a teenager.

Every January 1st, my mom would go to the top shelf of her closet and take down the colorful silk hanboks (traditional dress). The very act of putting it on, tying the bows correctly, seemed to have a transformative affect (except perhaps in those very self-indulgent teenage years). When I was younger, it felt like I was a princess and I would fantasize about what life would be like in a place where people wore these dresses all the time.

korean new year, child in a hanbok, paying tribute to elders

Once my sisters and I were dressed, we would stand in front of my parents, hands palms up by our sides, and bow slowly until our foreheads touched the floor. Then my parents would give us crisp $20 bills and that’d be it for the ceremony part. We would also make sure to eat dduk (rice cakes), meant to bring good luck in the new year. Dduk is one of my favorite foods, so hopefully eating it year round also brings that dose of good fortune (at least that’s what I tell myself when I indulge!).

Now that I’m an adult, I feel somehow more connected to the act of Sae-bae (bowing to one’s elders). This physical expression of my profound gratitude for both of my parents – for their sacrifices and for their love – as well as my pride for my heritage, for the traditions that bind us to the ancients – is an act that I now want to do. Need to do. I’m struck by how many traditions there are of honoring the elders across cultures, and again now that I am older, my parents are older, and I have a child myself, I really value having a ceremony that connects us all so emphatically.

Do you have a Korean New Year reflection, tradition, recipe, or anything you’d like to share?  Please get in touch here. We look forward to hearing from you!