I know I am late, but Happy Lunar New Year. And FYI, if you refer to Lunar New Year as “Chinese New Year” (as I have heard so many people say to me this past weekend), there is a chance that you might offend some non-Chinese Asians. Celebrating Lunar New Year is not solely limited to Chinese culture. It is also widely celebrated in other Asian countries, -Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia, to name a few. By referring to it as “Chinese New Year”, one is implying that Lunar New Year only applies to the Chinese, ignoring its reverence to other non-Chinese Asian countries. Koreans in Korea certainly don’t call it “Chinese New Year”. There are similarities, but each culture has its unique way of celebrating, as shown here.
In Korea, New Year (both lunar and solar) is referred to as 설날 (seol-nal). But I’ve noticed that it’s been commonly spelled as “seollal”. It sure does sound a lot like seollal because the “n” is almost silent. I have a feeling the trademarked spelling came from a non-native Korean speaker.
Below, I will deconstruct each syllable for an easier understanding, if you’re interested.
Sound it out with me…. s ~~uh~~l…
Put them together. 설날. That’s right, seol nal or suhl nal. The suh part sounds like when you are saying “sup” or “sun”. The nah sound is like when you say “nah, bro~” or “not”. Both have the “L” sound on the bottom. The letter on the bottom is known as a 받침 (bahd chim). Learn more about 받침 here.
음력 (eum ryuk) refers to the lunar calendar.
The ㅇ seems silent here and it’s pronounced eum. Like…keep your teeth together, part lips slightly…..what is the sound that comes out when you try to speak? If you’re doing it right, the “eu” sound should be coming out. And then you just add an “mmm” sound at the end.
ㄹ in this case is more of a rolled “r” sound than an “l” sound like it was in 설날, when it was used as a bahd chim. Just imagine someone with a thick Korean accent trying to say “roll”. That’s how the “r” sound here would sound like. ㅕ sounds like when you are saying “yup”. The 받침 here is the ㄱ. Put them together….rrrr~~~yuh~~~k. ……
The Lunar New Year is referred to as 구정 (gu jeong).
The vowel, ㅜ, makes a “woo” sound. But when put together with a consonant, it’s more like a “oo” sound. So, 구 would be pronounced “goo”. It sounds like when you are saying “moo”, like when a cow moos. Notice anything different with 구 from what we have been going over so far? If you guessed that 구 doesn’t have a bahd chim, you are correct. Kudos to you!
J-uh~~ng. Here, the ㅇ is used as the 받침, creating a “ng” sound….like when you say “feeling” or “caring”. Jung or jeong rhymes with “sung”.
Now put them together… 구정… goo~jung! Korean is easy, right?
The Solar New Year is referred to as 신정 ( sheen jung)
Sh~~~ee~~~~n………like Charlie Sheen!
Here’s that 정 again. Remember 정? Sheen Jung. 신정.
Though S. Korea now typically goes by the 양력 (yang ryuk) or solar calendar, olden day Korea used to go by the lunar calendar. The solar calendar wasn’t adopted until 1896. Today, many Koreans celebrate both 구정 and 신정. In the past, the Korean government has made attempts to go solely by the solar calendar but failed.
Again, the ㅇ (o) is kind of silent here….”ya” is just like it sounds (like when you’re saying “ya know…”. And ㅇ is used again here as a bahd chim, making it an “ng” sound. 양~ It’s also a last name of many Koreans (and also Chinese). The original pronunciation of the last name, 양 (or yang) in Korean would be more like yah~ng, but apparently, the American pronunciation of Yang has turned into what rhymes with “sang”.
As a second generation Korean American, I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the full on celebration of 구정. I’ve never lived in Korea and here in the States, my family acknowledges it, but we don’t really go about with all the festivities of the celebration. In Korea, the celebration lasts for three days. Families get together, often traveling from afar to join each other in the celebration. For some families, it’s one of the rare moments of the year of getting together.
It is customary to gather in the homes of the eldest in the family, like parents or grandparents, if they’re living. If not, it’s usually at the home of the eldest son.
The morning of 설날 starts with paying respect to ancestors. The table is filled with traditional 설음식 (sul eum sheek, meaning New Year’s Day food). Eum sheek means food (and one of the most important words to take in from my blog).
You didn’t forget “설” yet, did you?
I am hoping that you didn’t forget “음” either??!
Remember the 시 (shee) in Charlie Sheen? Well, this time, we added a ㄱ (k) as the bahd cheem. So 식 here sounds like “chic”. And it rhymes with “fleek”.
Family members bow to the table of food, paying respect and homage, in a ritual known as 차례 (cha rye). But with the growth of Christianity in S. Korea, not as many families are carrying out the tradition of bowing at the table.
Cha….as in cha cha cha~~
The rolled “r” sound again!
차례….cha rye…but one can be confusing because the 례 here is sounded out more like “reh”. So sounding it out, it would be “cha reh”. Confused yet? It’ll get so much easier once you get the gist of it. Promise.
Like in Chinese culture, money is given out during the celebration! This is the part that many children look forward to the most. It has been customary to dress in hanbok to bow to the elders in a ritual called 세배 (seh bae).
Bae? Like “Yang” is also a Korean last name. The original pronunciation of it sounds more like “beh”, but you can see how that also evolved with the American pronunciation. So yeah, 배 or bae actually sounds more like “beh”.
I heard the act of dressing in hanbok is also a dying breed, with more and more families choosing not to go through the hassle of it.
“새해복 많이 받으세요” is what is said as the younger ones kneel down to bow to the elders. You will want to know how to say this if you want 세뱃돈 (seh beht don), aka $$$$.
Seh heh bok mahnhi bahd eu seh yo.
Seh heh = new year year (새해)
Bok = good fortune (복)
Mahnhi = a lot (많이)
Bahd eu seh yo = may you receive/gain. (받으세요)
K……are you ready for this one?
복…Bohk….rhymes with “oak”.
많…maybe this one is tricky. The ㅎ(h) is kind of silent. Mahn….sounds like “naan”. Hmm…naan sounds so good right about now!
ee…like when you say the letter “e”.
받…bahd..the “bah” part sounds like when you say “ma”…..”Yo, ma! I’m starving over here~”
eu…remember our friend “eu”? ㅡ
Seh. ㅓ and ㅣ put together makes an “eh” sound too. In English, ㅔ and ㅐ sound the same.
ㅇsilent again here. And yes, it’s pronounced “yo”, like yo-yo.
Whew~ are you exhausted yet? If you’ve made it this far, great job.
There is usually so much food during the celebration!
Traditionally, the women (usually the daughter in laws) in the family spend hours or even days preparing the food for 설날 (and other major holidays). But I heard this tradition has been easing up since there are more working women than there have been in the past. To juggle a full-time job, take care of a household, travel to a family member’s house to slave away in the kitchen is no easy feat and can drain the life out of you. So yeah, traditions have been lightening up, or these women would probably die or kill someone. Even for a nonworking housewife, the workload alone for 구정 can feel like a life shortening task. But imagine what working women have/or had to go through! They were probably envious of their single, unmarried friends.
The star of the table would be ddukguk (rice cake soup). If you remember this post from a hundred years ago, you must be a loyal reader from the early days. And that means that you are awesome.
As with the tradition of the workload thrown on the daughter in laws have been waning, these days, less and less people are going through the whole shabang of traditional 구정. S. Korea is crazy congested. Even getting to the next town on a regular day can be hectic and life shortening. But imagine a day when the entire nation is on the road, trying to get to their destinations. And with less married people than before, more people just tend to stay home than travel to go see family. From speaking to folks that live in Korea, I heard that it’s just not what it used to be. My aunt in Korea said that she wishes that only 신정 was celebrated. After wishing everyone “Happy New Year” on January 1st, she has to repeat the same thing all over again, weeks later….
Below is a Korean alphabet chart (randomly found on the internet). Can you identify which letters we went over today? What did you think of my first Korean lesson? I plan to do more of these. But I will try to make them not as long. After I was done, it felt a bit overwhelming….like it was too much at once. It was my first little tutorial and I guess I got a little carried away. But if it helped you learn some new words, yay!