CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea - U.S. Soldiers might be curious why their Korean counterparts, Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army Soldiers, are so excited to celebrate the New Year with their families nearly a month after the first of January. That's because one of their biggest holidays, Seol-nal, celebrates New Years Day on Jan. 1 of the lunar calendar.

Like most of the families in Korea, my family drives to our ancestral home which in our case is located in the city of An-yang in Gyeonggi Province. We are relatively lucky to live nearby our ancestral home since the first day of the three-day holiday is referred to as "hell-day" due to the heavy traffic. Families who live far away from their ancestral homes can spend hours on the highway that day.

As soon as we arrive at our ancestral home, relatives who had arrived earlier greet us. Since all the family members are busy, holidays like Seol-nal are a great chance for us to gather and chat. After a long conversation, all family members from the oldest to the youngest sit in a circle to prepare the food for the next day's event.

On the day of Seol-nal, early in the morning, we get up and prepare lots of food such as tteokguk (rice-cake soup), all kinds of fruits, alcohol, sikhye (sweet rice drink) for our ancestors and place it on a table. Some of my family members dress up in their Han-boks, the traditional Korean clothing, but if not, formal clothes are also common for Seol-nal these days. Then we kneel and bow twice toward the table to thank our ancestors for taking care of our family even after their death and ask for good fortune for the New Year. This part of the ceremony is called Cha-re, in which we show respect to ancestors' spirits.

After Cha-re our families share the food which was offered to the ancestors. We call this part Um-bok. We believe sharing food will bring fortune and health to the family.

After Um-bok, we bow to the elders once wishing them good luck for the New Year saying "Sae-hae-bok-mani-bar-de-se-yo" while bowing, which means "I wish you good luck in the New Year." Then our elders reply with words of blessing, called Duk-dam, and give the younger generations pocket money. This is called Se-bae in which we demonstrate respect for the elders.

On the day of Seol-nal, it is a tradition to eat tteok-guk, made of a bar rice cake, which represents health and long life and symbolizes getting one year older. For this reason, eating tteok-guk after all the other ceremonies is a must.

After breakfast, my family visits our ancestors' tombs. We go to their tombs and place food that our ancestors enjoyed when they were alive. Alcohol or cigarettes could be placed if it is proper for the occasion. We ask them to be with us to guard the family's fortune. This expression of respect for the ancestors is called sung-myo.

When all the important events are over, everyone goes back home and enjoys playing some folk games. My family not only enjoys folk games like 'yut', but we enjoy having a big arm wrestling tournament every year. I guess every other family around the peninsula will have their own kind of game they play to have a meaningful time with their relatives.

My family usually goes home on the evening of Seol-nal or the day after. Most families in Korea do this or they visit more relatives.

Seol-nal is Korean's favorite holiday since it is a great chance to kick back and a wonderful time with relatives. This kind of reunion is a tonic for one's life. I hope U.S. Soldiers stationed in the Republic of Korea will also have a chance to experience this tradition.

Lastly, everyone "Sae-hae-bok-mani-bar-de-se-yo!"

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16