Lunar New Years Tteokguk
By Shim Hyun-chul
Lunar New Year's Day is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. From days gone by, it has been a time when people minded their words and actions as they prayed for a New Year full of good fortune.
The word ``seol'' means the beginning of a new year and ``seollal'' means first day of the New Year.
There are various takes on the meaning of seollal. Some say that it means newness or a not yet familiar day. Others regard seollal as when the new day of the new year begins or
when one should refrain from many things and keep one's words and actions clean.
Koreans usually bow to elders on this day, don new clothes, the ''seolbim,'' and wish others good tidings.
The food prepared on New Year's Day is called ``seichan,'' and one of the most representative is the ``tteokguk.''
It's a dish that everyone eats on New Year's Day. Households used ground rice and steam them to turn them into long waterhose-shaped tteok. Then they are sliced up into thin oval shapes and boiled in a clear broth.
Traditionally, Koreans would hold a ritual for their ancestors with a table full of traditional food, including, of course, the tteokguk instead of the normal rice and soup. They then served the rice cake soup to all visitors to their household.
The rice cake used to make tteokguk is made long and called ``garaetteok.'' Its shape is symbolic, wishing for longevity in life. The oval shape of the rice cakes resembles coins, in another expression of wishing for wealth and prosperity. When people are eating tteokguk, they are saying with that action that they are praying for a good year and they are adding one more year to their age. Some children eat several tteokguks in the hope that they would become adults sooner.