This is the story of my very first Seollal in South Korea. I had the opportunity to celebrate together with a Korean family.
The invitation came unexpectedly. One day I was having dinner with a lady from work and talking about my plans for moving. She seemed a bit sad I would be further away from her and unable to meet so often. That was when she went:
“Why don’t you spend Seollal with us?”
My first reaction was surprise. I had never spent this holiday in Korea but I always heard that it was a family holiday. And, seeing so many people book tickets to go to their hometowns. I felt a commotion very similar to Chuseok.
But with the surprise came joy and I was more than happy to accept the invitation. To make things feel cushier, I was told to invite my roommates. Since we are all foreigners, we were so excited to celebrate this big holiday.
On Seollal, the streets were so empty, just as they had been during Chuseok. I swear I saw two or three people on the street, and only a few more on the subway. To my luck, I hopped off at the wrong station and had to take a taxi to meet my roommates and get there in time. And guess what? First time I have ever had a hard time getting one during the day!
Due to the circumstances, I ended up arriving a bit late but just in time to join everyone at the table.
Seollal Meal: Round 1
Despite the food not being served, the number of bowls that were displayed on the table gave away we were going to be eating a lot. To my surprise, the lady who invited us and her friend still had their cooking aprons on and refused to sit with us. And suddenly, I was taken by the realization that it was the exact same thing happening in most homes in Korea that day. Grandmothers prepared meals and served everything full of joy.
Well, the food was great and, according to my Korean fellows, could not have been more traditional. We had tteokkuk, japchae, bulgogi, and short ribs. It is usually beef but since I don’t like beef, they prepared pork short ribs instead and that was the best meat I have ever eaten in my life. There were also side dishes such as kimchi and rice, of course.
Whenever we thought we were done eating, they brought us more and more food, and just like that we almost had to leave the dining room rolling on the floor. It was, by far, the best meal I had in Korea, and one of the best I had in my entire life. Nothing beats homemade traditional Korean food.
It was a great moment to talk and socialize while enjoying good food. The vibe was very chill and nostalgic, reminding me of when I was a kid and my big family would reunite for special occasions. I don’t really know how long it lasted, but it felt like we could go on like that for the entire day.
Seollal Meal: Round 2
Of course, there was a second round. We are in Korea after all. After having a blast eating in the dining room, it was time for us to eat in the living room. This time for dessert we got every single fruit Korea can offer with coffee and tea. Once again, the young ones were in one room and the elder ones were in another. Each group was enjoying different conversations but always interacting with each other. I personally loved this, even though we would talk and laugh together sometimes, there was some respect for generation gap boundaries!
The funniest things that happened during the second round were that one of the grandfathers was amazed by me and my roommates and wanted to talk to us using the best body language ever and one grandmother kept trying to hook her son up with me – again.
At the End of the Day
Whenever I write articles about my experiences here in Korea, I realize how interesting and unique they all are. It is always fascinating how people communicate and experience life in different ways and yet they always provoke nostalgic feelings.
When I wrote about Chuseok last autumn I mentioned it was my first time to go through a family-like holiday but with Seollal it got me wondering how it would be to celebrate like this every year.
I hope you can get the same experience.