It cannot be explained scientifically in today’s hypermodern society. But for hundreds of years, Koreans have pinned high hopes on the new year by reinterpreting the symbolic significance of each of the 12 zodiac animals.
And this year, Koreans celebrate the Year of the Pig, which symbolizes abundance, luck and fecundity.
According to Chinese astrology, the pig is the 12th animal in the 12-year zodiac cycle, and it is a good year to make money and build one’s fortune -- just like the plump image of a piggy bank.
This year, in particular, seems to be more special as it marks the Year of the “Golden Pig,” a combination of wealth and abundance.
In Korean mythology and folktales largely influenced by Chinese culture, the pig has appeared as an auspicious and friendly animal that serves as an offering to God in hopes of prosperity and success.
As a result of this longstanding belief, even today, Koreans often buy lottery tickets if they have dreamt of a pig overnight, and bow before a pig’s head when starting a new business.
The Year of the Pig is also considered a high-spirited year that is good for getting married and having new additions to one’s family.
Some even anticipate that this belief will encourage couples to have more babies, boosting the nation’s extremely low birthrate. In the previous Year of the Pig, in 2007, South Korea’s birthrate rose 10 percent from the previous year largely due to the belief that babies born in the Year of the Pig would pursue wealthy lives, according to reports citing data from Statistics Korea.
Furthermore, media outlets publish personal profiles of CEOs, politicians and celebrities born in the Year of the Pig -- 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007 -- suggesting they would hit another “jackpot” in the new year and giving the impression that those born in the Year of the Pig would also flourish.
Riding on hopes for a wealthy and fulfilling year, images of pigs are marketed by retailers, banks and even the livestock industry. Companies seek to win over customers with products ranging from cosmetics packaged with piggy characters to pig-themed T-shirts with messages like “make a fortune.”
However, in contrast to the positive image of pigs, 2019 is likely to be a year of difficult tasks in light of the slowing economy, growing uncertainties over inter-Korean ties and intensifying clashes between the haves and have-nots.
Statistics indicate that one of the biggest concerns of average Koreans is the increasing polarization of society -- a problem aggravated by the recent surge in property prices, and the rise and fall of new and old industries.
In the corporate world, the gap has widened in terms of company earnings and payments to employees. Small and medium-sized companies struggle in the face of tougher regulations and emerging technologies backed by massive capital, which have left them with little room to create new jobs and few reasons to continue operations.
Regarding inter-Korean ties, the Moon Jae-in government is at a crossroads, as its unification drive is losing steam due to opposition from conservatives at home, the US’ hesitance in making its next move and North Korea’s ambiguous stance over international demands on denuclearization.
Anxiety from both the business and geopolitical spheres has already weighed down Koreans since last year, while disappointing outlooks for economic indexes this year are likely to further burden people’s livelihoods.
But the hope for a good year and better life remains, as it is not necessarily about being rich in terms of money.
“I met someone special six years ago and am happily married. What I wish for is to have a child as precious as a golden pig this year,” said Shin Ki-won, a 36-year-old office worker in Songdo, Incheon.
For Kim Ji-young, a 24-year-old in Seoul, saving money and earning extra are her priorities, as she hopes to pay for a trip abroad for her mother, who has never been overseas.
“Even though I do not get much from work, I wish to give my mom something special this year -- a trip to Europe -- for she has done so much for me for her entire life,” she said.
Lee Joon-ho, a 48-year-old father of three in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, hopes to continue his construction supply business and make enough money to be able to afford a monthly family dinner at restaurants.
“I hope everyone in my family will be healthy and happy. If we can all laugh while enjoying dinner at my children’s favorite place, and (I can) take them as often as I can, I cannot ask for more.”
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org