This will be the last post on the differences in holidays between the US and Korea. I hope you’re not getting bored, but I thought I would share some insight on this because people back home are always so surprised, and I don’t think we should find other cultures so shocking.
So New Year’s Day in the west is Jan. 1st, and we celebrate with drinking, fireworks, and more drinking.
However, in South Korea the celebration is on Lunar New Year, a holiday based on the old calendar. Like Jewish holidays, it moves around. Lunar New Year (or “Solnal,”) usually falls sometime in February. The Chinese call it “Chinese New Year,” but obviously Koreans would never do that. All of Asia celebrates the holiday by different names.
In South Korea, Lunar New Year is when you go home to your ancestral village and sweep the graves of your ancestors. Everyone dresses in Hanbok, which is the traditional Korean outfit. Children bow before their elders on Solnal, and if they have been good, they get envelopes from each person with money inside. That last part is why it’s every Korean child’s favorite holiday.
The thing I find most puzzling is the gifts. Your employer typically gives you a gift, and so do others in your lives. It’s not the gift itself that I find puzzling, but rather the fact that the number one gift on this holiday is a Spam gift set. They are huge, expensive, and very prestigious.
Obviously, this is a holdover from the Korean War, in which the US fought on the South Korean side and brought in shipments of Spam to feed everyone.
I don’t know why Koreans want to remember that in a positive light, but it has been integrated into the culture, and Spam gift sets are the preferred gift on Lunar New Year.