What do the Christmas spirit, the Lunar New Year, the earth pig and the birthday have in common? In the middle of the Christmas preparations and impatience let’s take a look in the distance at South Korea and find out…
It is not surprising that Christmas in South Korea is celebrated in a similar way to ours: there is the obligatory shopping, the fuss around the Christmas menu, the exchanging of gifts, and for the religious ones – the observing of the religious rituals. Around 30% of South Koreans are Christians (the biggest percentage among the East Asian countries), since the religion reached the country back in the 17th century. Despite the fact that South Korea is traditionally Buddhist, Christmas has been declared a national holiday and a day off work. During that time the streets are glowing with Christmas lights, the shops’ windows shine with decorations and even Santa Claus (actually Santa Haraboji) can be seen taking a walk here and there.
New Year, however, is another and more curious case. Traditionally, like the majority of the Asian countries, South Korea used to follow the lunar calendar. In recent years the celebration of New Year on 1st of January has gained popularity, yet the Lunar New Year remains the key winter holiday. As in any other culture, the celebration of the new beginning is marked with realization of the eternal cycle of life, and the focus is turned both to the past with worship as well as to the future with hope. These characteristics are represented in a series of traditions and customs of paying respects to the elders, and anticipations and wishes for the next year.
In 2019 the Lunar New Year falls on the 5th of February and the celebrations usually take three days. Exactly in the spirit of this magical number here we present you three important and interesting characteristics of this holiday.
The Bow to the Ancestors and the Elders
The bow is a typical way to greet somebody in Korea and a part of the traditional manners. The deeper it is the more respect it pays to the other person. The New Year is exactly one of the occasions when the deepest possible bow is used – the one to the floor. It is addressed to the family’s ancestors and it is a part of a ceremony of paying tribute to their spirits, during which special foods and drinks are offered to them. What is more, the children in the family bow to the elders and receive gifts and money. This is one of the examples for the deep respect, which the elders in South Korea enjoy. Another instance for that is the complicated honorary system of the Korean language which suggests using different styles of speaking, depending on the levels of politeness and respect one has to express.
2019 – The Year of the Earth Pig
According to the east calendar (a variation of which is supposed to hypothetically have been used by the Proto-Bulgarians) next year will come under the sign of the earth pig, which is the last one of the zodiac. The pig distinguishes among the others signs as friendly and honest. As a symbol of wealth, it promises a success in every sphere of life. And like a true piggy bank, it promises to protect and multiply all financial investments. The earth element, on the other hand, is the one connected with loyalty and honesty and it corresponds to the ideas of nurture, stability and security.
How Old am I in Korea?
Probably the most intriguing part about the celebration of the Lunar New Year is that this is the time when everyone adds another year to their age. That’s right – the Koreans “get older” not on their birthdays, but on New Year’s Eve! What is more, the Koreans calculate their age from year one, not from year zero, like we are used to. This is why in order to know how old you are going to be in South Korea during the 2019, you should add one more year to your current age and then one more on the 5th of February. This may seem a bit frightening for the westerners; however in the East people tend to consider age to be a criterion for social status and prestige, and not a reason for panic and depressions, as in the West. And to specify one’s age is of crucial importance of the self-presentation in South Korea, since it defines the hierarchical relations and the corresponding style of speaking, as mentioned before.
This way of calculating the age may be the secret behind the fact that Koreans usually look a lot younger than they state they are. However, the wonders of the Korean cosmetics and the obsession with healthy lifestyle also play their role.
While waiting for the Christmas holidays to come we are often overtaken by the “no Christmas spirit whatsoever” diagnosis. In this case it is always more productive not to wait for the holiday mood to come magically to us, but to put effort in doing the magic on our own.
With hope that this article contributes a little bit to your Christmas mood,