Did life end this weekend? No! Well it might as well have!

After graduation, I completed the two-day winter camp last Thursday, most of it went well.  We had gorged on a Harry Potter theme and Canadian-style pancakes, the only significant flaw was the chaotic soccer event that took place in the gym. It was now time for the Lunar New Year and a traditional short holiday (long weekend).

Holiday traffic is frightening in Korea; people seem contented to spend the best-part of a weekend caressing each other’s bumpers! Well not the frustrated flaneur! I stayed in my petite domicile and thanks to the marvelous VPN Hide My Ass and the BBC iPlayer I spent the whole 4 days in audio-visual utopia. These two technological marvels are the legends that have enhanced my none-travelling life most since I arrived in SK almost one year ago.  Seollal (Lunar New Year), is one of the Korean calendar’s most significant customary holidays, with the autumn harvest festival Chuseok being as venerated. It was Seollal last weekend and whilst Friday saw a 75% increase in credit card debt across SK I’m sure everyone had a super time. Pause, rewind, the Law of Diminishing Returns should be applied!

Rumour has it that the rituals go back as far as the 6th century. The lunar calendar was first adopted during ancient Korea’s Three Kingdom era. Today; China, Mongolia and Vietnam among others, all celebrate the lunar New Year holiday. In general, Seollal occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Usually the preceding and following days are combined to create a three-day holiday. Traditionally extended families often gather at the eldest brother’s home and food, games, conversation and ancestral rites take place. On the morning of Seollal, people get up early to get ready and dress up by putting on their ‘Seolbim’ (brand-new clothes).

Koreans pay their respects to ancestors by offering food; they believe the spirits of the ancestors return to take pleasure in the holiday food set out for them. Some family members will perform Jesa (제사), a ceremonial rite to honour departed ancestors. Deep bows, Sebae (세배), are made. As another sign of respect, an ancestral tablet is placed on the ritual table along with all the dishes and drinks. It is believed that the rites reinforce the descendants’ prayers for a good new year.

Food is at the heart of the holiday, with Tteokguk (떡국, rice cake soup) as the signature dish. This time-honored soup is prepared with a thin beef broth and slices of leathery rice cakes. Regional and family variations concoctions apply so that, egg, beef, dried seaweed and green onions may be added. Consumption of Tteokguk on Seollal is said to add one year to a purveyor’s age. I’m not quite sure where the presentation boxes containing 12 bricks of SPAM come into play during the festival but whatever! Other food consumed over the holiday includes Korean-style pancakes (Jeon), various types of fish, Galbijjim (rib stew), and Japchae (noodles with meat and vegetables). All of this is generally the work of the female family members. The notion that holidays should be even more family centred and less stress for women is becoming more popular with some family’s even buying in the food, loading up the highest per-capita debt in SE Asia even more…

I returned to school today and prepped my “Freshers Workbook” for the start of teaching tomorrow.

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