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Get sucked into Seollal
As the cities empty, Lunar New Year is a great time to experience Korean sights and try cultural events
By Paul Kerry and Lara Pearce
With the Lunar New Year approaching, Korean families will gather at homes and on hillsides across the country to pay respects to their ancestors.
For many expats, Seollal’s holiday exodus gives them a chance to enjoy city sites and leisure activities in relative quiet.
As most expats’ families are far away, museums and city governments put on events to help bring them together while also learning about some of the traditions.
“It’s one of the biggest holidays in Korea and most expats will feel loneliest when it comes to these holidays, living away from home in a foreign country,” explained Michelle Kang of Seoul Global Center, which is helping organize Seoul City’s Seollal Han-madang Festival event in Seoul Citizens’ Hall.
“It’s going to be a big gathering, you can meet some other fellow expats here. At the same time you can learn some Korean traditions, like how to set the table for the ritual service and then some things you can actually get involved in.”
The event will let expats learn the ancestral rites and enjoy Korean and international cuisines. There will also be the chance to play folk games including jegi-chagi and tuho and a chance to make traditional “madeup” ornaments. Seoul City is putting on a Lunar New Year feast designed specifically for expats, including English commentary. The event will take place Thursday from 2-4 p.m. It is free, but requires reservation. For more information, call (02) 2075-4180, email email@example.com or visit global.seoul.go.kr.
Elsewhere festivals, feasts and traditional ceremonies and games abound.
You can don “hanbok,” or traditional Korean attire, and discover your inner nobility at one of Seoul’s grand palaces. Entry is free for anyone wearing hanbok, and special concerts and events are planned to ring in the Year of the Snake.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty for more than 500 years, will play host to traditional performances and folk games.
Within the palace grounds, the National Folk Museum is putting on its own Seollal Han-madang Festival, including a special demonstration of hawk hunting -- a traditional winter activity that was recently listed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List.
There will also be fortune telling, tteok making and special events for children based on Tet, the Vietnamese New Year which coincides with Seollal.
The National Folk Museum is also celebrating with a three-part exhibition dedicated to the role of the snake in Korean culture throughout the centuries. The exhibition will run until Feb. 25. General admission is 3,000 won and includes the museum.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng.
Seen it all before? Then celebrate at another Seoul UNESCO World Culture Heritage site, Changdeokgung Palace. Built in 1405, this palace was designed to complement the natural topographical features of the landscape. On Seollal, traditional costumes and games abound, adding to the authentic feel of the best-preserved traditional architecture in Korea. Located in Jongno-gu, admittance is by guided tour only, at 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. The 90-minute tour is 3,000 won for adults. For more information, call (02) 762-8261.
Celebration of the Lunar New Year dates back to the sixth century, during the Three Kingdoms period when Korea adopted the Lunar Calendar. So what better way to celebrate the event than by throwing yourself head-on into traditional Korean life?
The Korean Folk Village in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, allows you to do just that. Check out the folk painting exhibition, learn to fly a kite the Korean way or participate in talisman writing while getting lost in the maze of more than 300 traditional houses and buildings scattered across the sprawling village -- all while enjoying the music and dance performances, both traditional and hip-hop. Admission is 15,000 won for adults and 10,000 won for children. Wear hanbok and get in for half price. Cultural events take place Feb. 2-13. For the event schedule, call 031-1330 or visit www.koreanfolk.co.kr/folk/english/main.html. Advanced reservations are required for a guided tour. Call (031) 287-1332 to make a reservation.
Meanwhile, Daegu is ringing in the Lunar New Year early with a grand parade on Feb. 3 at the Daegu-gonggo crossroad in Ahoi Village. The procession will commence at 1 p.m. but stick around, because at 2 p.m. the real party gets under way. The New Year’s Wind Festival is celebrated with madang drama, dance and music performances, character costumes, minsok nori (traditional folk games), Korean board games, kite flying and more. For more information, call the Tourist Information Center at 053-1330.
If you’re planning on bringing in the Lunar New Year by the sea shore, don’t miss out on seeing a traditional performance of gugak, Korean classical music developed during the end of the Joseon period. A free concert is being held at the Busan Cultural Center in Nam-gu, Busan, on Feb. 9, where a janggochum (Korean drum dance), folk songs and dancing will be on show. The concert begins at 5 p.m., but get in early because free tickets will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 4 p.m. For more details, contact the center at (051) 607 3123.
For latecomers to the celebrations, or for those who simply want to prolong the holiday, Hongbeopsa Temple is offering kite making on Feb. 17. Try your hand at making shield kites, stringray kites and many others incorporating traditional Korean designs -- all just a short bus ride from central Busan. For more information, call Busan’s Tourist Information Center at 051-1330.
But if you’d rather seek more modern forms of entertainment and relaxation, many tourism organizations offer special holiday packages over the long weekend. Adventure Korea is offering a three-day ski trip to Phoenix Park resort for $220, and the Seoul Hiking Group is running an all-inclusive chartered tour to Jeju Island from Feb. 8-11 for 335,000 won. Find out more details on their Facebook group pages.
For more holiday ideas, call your local Tourism Information Center.
Bae Soo-min contributed to this article. -- Ed.