More interesting tips about Seol (Lunar New Year) in South Korea

**Last updated on 30 January 2022**

Happy Lunar New Year! 새해 복 많이 받으세요. 🙂

Thanks for the overwhelming views of my blog post dated 18 February 2015 on how the Koreans celebrate Seollal (설날 – Lunar New Year’s Day, i.e., the 1st day of the 1st month of the lunar calendar).  That blog post talks about the traditional ways in which the Koreans celebrate the Seollal.  In this blog post, I will give more interesting tips about Seol (설 – Lunar New Year) and some modern ways of celebrating the Seol which can still be used even after Seollal.

Year of the Tiger

The Koreans adopt the 12 zodiac animals used by the Chinese for the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar runs in a 12-year cycle with each year in the cycle being associated with one zodiac animal (in the order of rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig).  2022 is the Year of the Tiger. So, people born before the Seollal this year are regarded as being born in the Year of the Ox and those born on or after the Seollal are regarded as being born in the Year of the Tiger. If you want to know which zodiac animal you belong to, you can visit this website.

It is believed that people born in the year of a specific zodiac animal are associated with certain personality characteristics.  The tiger is regarded as a sacred beast that wards off evil spirits and is a symbol of power, strength and bravery. The tiger has long been an animal that represent the Korean people – you may refer to my blog post dated 28 January 2018 for further detail. Famous people born in the Year of the Tiger includes Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, Leonardo Di Caprio, and Lady Gaga.  Korean stars born in the Year of the Tiger includes Siwon, Eunhyuk and Donghae from Super Junior, BoA, Kim Seon-ho, and Twice’s Dahyun,

Three key Seollal gift-giving trends

Koreans buy gifts for their family members and friends for Seollal and the types of popular gifts somehow reflect the economic or social trends of the prevailing time.  We can summarize them in three terms, namely, solo economy, luxury dessert and health products.

Solo economy: It is estimated that the number of people living alone in South Korea will exceed 5 million in 2015 (vs. 414 million in 2010).  The department stores and shops are now offering gift sets which are packed in small amounts suitable for consumption by people living alone.  For example, Shinsegae Department Store offers a gift set consisting of two (instead of 10 to 20) dried yellow corvina.

Luxury dessert: Nowadays, people like to consume luxury dessert products such as cookies, chocolate, macarons and pudding. South Korea is no exception.  Even though the Korean economy has been slowing in recent years, the sale of luxury dessert products has still achieved an average annual growth of 10%.  Luxury dessert product gift sets cost about 20,000 won to 80,000 won each which are still cheaper than beef or dried yellow corvina gift sets.  So, a lot of Koreans like to buy luxury dessert products as Seollal gifts.

Health products:  As the Koreans are increasingly concerned about health and the ageing of the population, health products such as ginseng products and nuts have become popular Seollal gifts.  Giving health products as gifts also has the meaning of wishing the recipients a healthy new year.

Going to a fortune-teller to read your future

Don’t think that fortune-telling is just for old people.  In South Korea, both old and young people (even university students) like to go to the fortune-tellers to seek advice whenever they encounter difficult issues, e.g., career, study, love affairs, marriage, family, health, etc.  At the start of the Lunar New Year, the Koreans also like to have the fortune-tellers give some advice as to what lies ahead in that year.

If you have been to Seoul, you can find many fortune-telling cafes (where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to the advice of the fortune-tellers) and fortune-telling booths enclosed by transparent curtains (each of which has just a table and chairs for the fortune-teller and customers and some may have a crystal ball placed on the table as well), for example, in the areas of Myeongdong and Hongdae.   Depending on the complexity of the advice being sought, each consultation usually costs about 5,000 won to 20,000 won.

The more popular fortune-telling services offered in South Korea are 사주 (Saju – the four pillars), 타로 (Tarot) and 궁합 (Gunghap – marital harmony).  You can often see these Koreans words written on the placards outside the fortune-telling cafes and booths.  “Saju” means the four pillars consisting of your birth year, month, day and hour which determine your destiny and character. The fortune-teller advises on your character and destiny (past, present and future) based on analysis of your saju. If you don’t know the hour in which you were born and so cannot try the saju reading, you can try the Tarot card reading.  Like the western fortune-tellers, the Korean fortune-teller offers advice on the issues you would like to know based on analysis of the Tarot cards drawn by you. Couples who are going to get married (and more often their parents) ask the fortune-tellers to predict their gunghap (i.e., marital harmony).  The fortune-teller predicts whether the couple are a good match for each other based on analysis of their saju.

In episode 13 of the recent hit Korean drama, “Kill Me Heal Me” (킬미힐미), the main actor and the main actress went to a fortune-telling booth to seek advice on the fate of their love affair through tarot card reading.  You can see that video clip by clicking the link below and get some idea of what such fortune-telling booth looks like.

“Kill Me Heal Me” Tarot Card Reading Video Clip

If you happen to be in Seoul, don’t forget to visit one of the fortune-telling cafes or booths – that’ll be an interesting experience for you.

All the best for the Year of the Tiger! 🙂

Reminder: You can follow my blog by clicking the “Follow” button on the sidebar to receive email notifications of new posts.  


满子, “揭秘韩国:2015年春节送礼3大趋势“, 沪江韩语, 2015-02-21

Lee Sun-young, “Checking gunghap before marriage“, The Korea Herald, 2014-02-26

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