Valuable Traditional Events on New Year’s Day
A racial group or an ethnic group is defined by its culture and religion. This is because the collective actions of people who belong to the same group are guided by that group’s cultural values and religious beliefs. The global community consists of several racial and ethnic groups with different sets of cultural values and religious beliefs.
The differences in these beliefs explain why people all over the world do not dress alike (Muslim women are prohibited from wearing skimpy clothes which are popular among western women); do not eat the same food (unlike Christians, Muslims do not eat pork); and do not treat one another in the same manner (western women are allowed more freedom than Muslim women). Sometimes these differences are minor and easily ignored, thereby facilitating relationships across cultures.
At other times, however, such differences become very antagonistic and irreconcilable as to develop into major irritants and even cause wars. Since people from different cultures believe and behave differently, traditions also vary across cultures. Traditions consist of the customs and practices which people consider important enough to hand down from generation to generation in order to preserve their core cultural values and beliefs. Every culture has several important traditions.
In Korea, for example, one of the most important traditions is the manner of celebrating the biggest event of every year: New Year’s Day. Seol-Nal in the Korean language, the celebration starts with all Koreans, children and adults alike, greeting one another with the usual “Happy New Year” greeting. Actually, the actual Korean greeting, when literally translated into English, means: “I wish you have a great year and good luck this year. ” Koreans greet one another while bowing their heads. Children, particularly, are enjoying this bowing and greeting tradition.
While the tradition is for elder people to give their advice to their family members who bow to them, when children do the bowing, tradition dictates that the elders should give them “lucky money. ” This tradition dates back as early as four hundred years ago. Children, therefore, could get “lucky money” from their parents, their aunts and uncles, and their grandparents. Koreans consider this a very important tradition because it shows their elders’ desire for the success of the members of their families. Therefore, this “lucky money” is a means of helping them start their new year in a prosperous manner.
For the children, “lucky money” means new clothes, backpacks, pens and pencils because they want to return to school with brand new clothes and school supplies. Because of the importance of the New Year’s Day celebration, Koreans, wherever they are, make it a point to do their utmost in order to go back home to celebrate this event together with their families since most of them are now living elsewhere because of their jobs. Korean families of two hundred years ago usually lived in one big house where they could always have time to talk about their affairs and their problems.
Nowadays, the New Year’s Day celebration is the only occasion during which they could be together again and talk just like old times. The celebration actually starts on the eve of the New Year called Sut dal kum mum in the Korean language. To prepare for the New Year, Koreans clean their houses thoroughly. After the house-cleaning, they light halogens of different colors. Then they take hot water bath and light sticks made of bamboo because they believe that doing so would drive the evil spirits away. Koreans do not sleep during New Year’s Eve.
The belief is that when one goes to sleep, his or her eyebrows “would turn white. ” Then the coming of the New Year is welcomed by switching on all the lights in the whole house and keeping their eyes wide open (Society for the Confluence of Festivities in India). Then they take their bath early the following morning, New Year’s Day, and dress themselves up in new clothes. Afterwards, the bowing and giving of “lucky money” begins immediately. Meanwhile, the day is spent by Korean women in cooking delicious meals.
Almost all Koreans cook the traditional rice-cake soup called “Deok-Guk” on New Year’s Day. According to them, this stands for purity because its color is white. The Korean saying is that if “Deok-Guk” is served on New Year’s Day, those who eat will have a longer life because the rice cake used in making the soup are long. Korean children love “Deok-Guk” because they believe that they will grow faster and taller when they eat it during this day. Aside from “Deok-Guk,” Koreans also cook many healthy recipes which contain plenty of meat and vegetables (SCFI).
Koreans, in keeping with tradition, also celebrate the day by drinking a special kind of liquor which, according to them, improves their hearing power. In other words, when they drink this liquor on New Year’s Day, they are convinced that their sense of hearing will be in excellent condition throughout the year. Their ancestors are also part of the celebration. In a ritual which they call Chesa, the ancestors are being energized so that they could bless their descendants. This ritual is being conducted in a clean room where there is an altar with foods on it according to a specified arrangement.
First, the meat is placed on the left side of the altar and the rice drink is on the right side of the altar. Then all items colored white should be on the western side and the red-colored foods on the eastern side. In addition, if any food contains heads and tails, the head should be situated on the east while the tail should be positioned facing west. Finally, using a special paper which Koreans call Chi Bang, the name of the male ancestors are then written clearly on the left side while the female ancestors’ name are written on the right, arranged in the order of their ages.
For instance, the names of the great grandparents come first, followed by the names of the grandparents, then the names of the parents if they are already dead. This particular ritual, according to Koreans, is being observed in order to obtain the blessings of their descendants (SCFI). Koreans also believe that their ancestors are living in the sky and are always ready to protect them. Because of this belief, one of their traditions is a memorial service conducted for their ancestors. First, they prepare different kinds of food and then place them, together with the framed photographs of their ancestors, on a big table.
Then every member of the family should bow in front of the photographs of their ancestors two times at the same time wishing for the protection of the whole family. After everybody is done with the bowing, the elders offer alcoholic drink to their ancestors. Then everybody is allowed to spend a quiet time in the room so that they can talk with their ancestors. Afterwards, everybody leaves the room and silence is maintained in the whole house to enable the ancestors to come down from the sky and eat the food prepared for them.
Most Koreans observe this custom which is believed to be one thousand years old already. After the rituals have been observed, the family members, especially the children, find time to play. Most of the games being played are outdoor games because they are considered good for the health, especially for children. Some of the more popular outdoor games for New Year’s Day are tops-spinning, kite flying, and the Korean game called Jae gi cha gi which is like the game where hacky sacks are kicked.
Another traditional game which is very popular among Koreans because it could be played almost anywhere is called Yut-nol-ee. This game is usually played during the New Year’s Day and everyday until the fifteenth day of January. Children are very fond of this game because it involves stick-throwing (SCFI). People from different cultural backgrounds observe their traditional events every year not only to commemorate significant occasions but more importantly, to be able to hand down tradition from generation to generation for the purpose of preserving their core cultural values.
This is the most effective method of keeping their cultures alive. Koreans subscribe to this school of thought. This is why efforts are being exerted to require the current generation and the generations to come to keep Korean traditions alive no matter what. It is all right for Koreans if people from different cultural backgrounds celebrate the New Year differently and sometimes even on different dates. What is important is for people across cultures to respect each others’ traditions and preserve the cultures of the world.