Lunar New Year at a hagwon

Happy New Year!  Okay, you’re probably thinking wtf mate?  New Years was at the BEGINNING of January.  (Don’t worry that post is coming soon too!)  Wednesday we celebrated  설날 (Seollnal), Korean New Year, which follows the Lunar calendar just like the Chinese New Year.  I called it Chinese New Year a few times and offended a Korean or two so I’ve stuck to calling it Lunar New Year.

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This is a huge holiday in Korea and we had a day full of games and celebrations much like Chuseok, the Korean harvest holiday.  All of my students came in wearing a hanbok, traditional Korean dress.  It was absolutely adorable!

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A hanbok is formal attire similar to a western suit or dress.  Apparently Korean men are wearing them less frequently and opting to wear suits or tuxedos because the school had a hard time renting the men’s version.  The female hanbok reminds me of a colorful 1800’s ball gown combined with a burst of silk pastels.

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Either way my little munchkins looked great.  Luckily my coteacher, Mary, was in charge of most of today’s events.  We started off with a traditional korean board game, Yoot Nori.  Its similar to sorry but you move by tossing “sticks” that are premarked with X’s.  Each one that lands with the X side up lets them move the game piece one space.  I’m not really sure that my students understood the rules but they had a blast anyway!

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After Yoot Nori we taught them the traditional way to bow.  Men bow with their right hand over their left and women left over right.  They kneel down low and their head almost touches the floor.  While Mary was explaining this I was called out to change into a hanbok!  My principal had volunteered me to wear one for the next ceremony, I told her I’d only do it if we were paid and thankfully we were!  (We are still owed pension and not happy about it but I didn’t feel like fighting her today).

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The bowing ceremony is typically between kids and their elders, after they bow and wish happy new year they are given “lucky money.”  This was sent in by their parents and most kids got ₩1000 ($1) but every once in a while a lucky student got a ₩10,000 ($10) note!

After lunch Mary taught them about the history of Lunar New Year.  This was all in Korean so I happily played the role of class photographer before it was time to head up to the gym.  Upstairs we revisited Tooho & Sabangchigi, two games we played during Chuseok.   One is basically hopscotch and the other a traditional dart throwing game where the students throw long darts into a bucket.

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We wrapped up the day with a few minutes of a Disney movie.  Our New Year celebration was certainly a hit!  I’m glad I got to try out a hanbok but it was a little strange; if I wore won again I’d probably want to pick my own out rather than using a communal one.

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This celebration is quite different from anything I’ve seen in the states.  What differences have you noticed in New Year celebrations around the world?

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