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Because Korea follows a lunar calendar, Koreans celebrate their new year with the advent of the new moon in early January or late February. South Koreans bid farewell to the old year by cleaning their houses, paying off debts and reconciling with estranged friends. Then they welcome the new year with games, feasting, flying kites and giving gifts. North Koreans are not permitted the luxuries of celebrating like their southern neighbors, but since the lunar new year was reinstated in 1989, they have eaten meals of rice, pork and beans, along with a rice cake known as songpyeon.
Dress and Costumes
A traditional Korean costume worn both men and women, the hanbok (as it is known in South Korea) or the joseon-ot (as it is known in North Korea) consists of a single garment -- the jeogori -- covering the torso, beneath which men wear pants and women wear a skirt and pants. The kind of hanbok worn during the new year typically is made of silk or brocade. Children might sketch their own hanbok designs or print out hanbock costumes for miniature figurines. Or they could draw pictures of men and women wearing these costumes and place them on the front of handmade new year’s cards.
Kites and Lanterns
Kites have been flown in Korea during the new year since the reign of King Yongjo in the late 18th century. Make a kite out of bamboo sticks covered in white paper, cutting a hole in the center that prevents the kites from being destroyed by the wind. Or decorate a round paper lantern by taping and overlaying layers of colorful tissue-paper disks until the whole globe is completely covered.
During the new year, girls play a game known as noltuigi on a wooden board similar to a seesaw. They take turns jumping, trying to propel each other higher and higher. According to legend, this game dates back to a time when women were locked in their houses throughout the year and fashioned boards like these in order to catch a glimpse out their windows of the world outside. While noltuigi and many other traditional games are not played in North Korea, the government of North Korea has permitted the game of top-spinning, which has been a new year's tradition in Korea since before the country was divided.
In North and South Korea, the Korean new year is a time to honor one’s relatives --both living and dead. Children engage in a ritual of bowing to their elders, who speak a blessing of health and prosperity over them. In South Korea, the elders provide them with gifts the children keep in silken drawstring pouches, known as bok jumeoni. Young people searching for craft ideas may knit their own pouches or make family trees tracing their ancestry, discussing the lives and stories of the people listed with elders who are living. In North Korea, men spend the day visiting their neighbors; women, who are forbidden from joining them, stay indoors playing board games and singing and dancing with their children.
- Asia for Kids: Lunar New Year
- TeacherVision: Sol-Nal, The Korean New Year
- DailyNK: Does North Korea Celebrate Lunar New Year?
- Korea Tourism Organization: Hanbok
- Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary; Keith Pratt
- Kim Jong Il's Leadership of North Korea; Jae-Cheon Lim
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images