Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lunar New Year: A Comparison between Singapore and Korea



South Korea

Being my sixth year living in Asia, I have been fortunate enough to be able to celebrate 12 New Year's.  This is because most East Asian and South East Asian countries celebrate both the calendar new year and the lunar new year.  While in Singapore there were many traditions surrounding the lunar new year, such as lion dances, the giving of "fortune" oranges, and the annual emergence of pineapple tarts.  Korea also has many of it's own traditions for the lunar new year, such as 제사 (Jaesa) or 세배해요 (saebaehaeyo) bowing ceremonies, and eating 떡국 (ddeok guk), which is a rice cake soup.

For the bowing cermonies, they are done for different purposes.  제사 is done to honor dead relatives and give thanks to them.  I once was randomly stopped in the streets of Seoul and asked if I wanted to partake and learn about this unique cultural tradition.  I had nothing to do, so I accepted.  To my surprise it had a VERY specific procedure which was very repetitive and honestly exhausting to bow that much.  The strange part was that I was told I could not tell anyone that I had done this ceremony for 100 days and my ancestors would bless me, but if I told someone then I would not receive the blessing.  I didn't last even one day.  The 세배해요 ceremony is done by younger generations to the older generations to show respect.  Usually the younger generations receive money for this respect, which makes me question the sincerity of the practice.  This year I even had a strange kid bow to me on the street on Lunar New Years and I questioned to myself if was expecting me to pay him.  Regardless it was a nice gesture. 

For all the differences between Singapore's and Korea's Lunar New Year traditions, there are many similarities as well.  Both gather the entire extended families together to share a lot of food together.  Both place an emphasis on paying respect to dead and elder relatives.  Lastly, both also give children money in red packets (hongbao in Singapore; 세뱃돈saebaetdon in Korea) for showing respect.

However, for me Lunar New Year means time off from work and usually going to travel somewhere.  This year me and some of my rugby mates decided to book a pension in Pyeongchang, the site of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, and have a short snowboarding trip, which is becoming a new hobby of mine.  It was a little challenging planning it all, and I was relied on as translator, but it was a success and we had a lot of fun.

The gang

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