Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Seolnal! 설날

Pop Quiz! Here's a little cultural analogy for you when comparing Korea and the US:

Chuseok : Thanksgiving :: ___________ : Christmas

a) Easter
b) Buddha's Birthday
c) my birthday
d) Seolnal

For those of you who answered d), pat yourself on the back! (And for those who suddenly had panicked flashbacks to the SATs, I apologize. But these holidays are definitely analogous, and thus worthy of an analogy).

In Korea, I already had the pleasure of experiencing the Chuesok holiday in late October. It is a time when families come together and remember their ancestors through Confucian practices (primarily; although Buddhist and newly-emerging Christian traditions are also a part of this holiday). Koreans often equate this to a traditional US Thanksgiving (although our history is quite a bit different).

Seolnal (설날) is the Korean term for "Lunar New Year," which is on February 3rd this year at the start of the Lunar calendar. In Korea, the Solar New Year (January 1st) is also celebrated, but not on nearly as large of a scale. When I asked my co-teacher to describe how her Seolnal was going to look, she told me there would be family, a table full of food for their ancestors (a Confucian tradition), and they would play traditional Korean games. Sounds kind of like Christmas to me.

In December, I was feeling a hole in the traditional time line that are holidays because very few native Koreans honor Christmas as something meaningful (a very different vibe from the "Christmas spirit" I'm surrounded with each December). Celebrating a season when you are a minority is not as comfortable as when you are the majority (though I believe many things are less comfortable for the minority). All the same, now that it's Seolnal season, it's almost comforting to see this culture celebrate as one, even if I won't be celebrating with them.

Wait, does celebrating the end of Winter Camps count? 'Cause that should definitely be its own holiday. But I digress.

Anyway, this week, I got to see and experience some really thoughtful, completely traditional Korean gift-giving. Although Seolnal is about honoring your ancestors and elders (making gift-giving to everyone unnecessary), some people choose to give gifts anyway. Not wanting me to feel completely left-out or culturally-deprived, a couple of my co-teachers sent me presents:

a beautiful pencil case (in traditional Korean cloth),

and a whole box of delicious traditional Seolnal snacks for the new year. Such a kind gesture! In fact, there are so many that you may be seeing them again... in a haiku... three months from now.

Some of my students also gave me cards and snacks. Best excerpt comes from a very special student of mine:
"When you gave me some good words, I'm get energy! I'm very thank you about it."
Yeah; sometimes being a teacher is completely, no-strings-attached AWESOME.

Well, with 5-days of time-off for Seolnal, what will this waygook be doing, you ask? Sleeping and bumming around Korea (as time and holiday traffic allow) of course! Bring it on, New Year part II.

Happy Seolnal , everyone!
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