By Mandy Day
Monday marks the beginning of Seollal, or Korean New Year, an auspicious event bringing together busy families. For Koreans abroad, celebrations often evolve as extended families are separated by thousands of miles. For San Diego State graduate student Jini Shim, who immigrated from South Korea with her family when she was a child, the past few years have proven difficult to establish new traditions. Her parents moved back to Seoul leaving Shim and her sister as the only members of their immediate family residing in the United States. She remembers how her family celebrated when she was younger in the United States:
“Instead of going to a relative’s house for a major family gathering to share food, play the traditional games like Yutnori, and receive New Year’s allowance (a tradition where the children do a formal bow to the elderly, and the elderly give money as an allowance to the children in return), it would be just my parents, and my younger sister eating the Seollal food (rice cake soup “ddeok-gook”) at home.”
Holidays and major cultural events have allowed Koreans across the globe to create surrogate families with which they can celebrate these occasions. Shim has organized a belated Seollal event in the San Diego area to bring together local Koreans, Korean Americans, and their friends to experience the food and camaraderie. She says, “I plan on getting together with friends in San Diego who are interested in Korean culture, perhaps try to enliven the spirit of the holiday by playing Yutnori and eating rice cakes or something like that”. Though her family did not celebrate the New Year festivities in the traditional sense during her childhood, her extended family would gather for dinner at a restaurant. She has some regret for not experiencing the more conventional aspects which she says is partly why she hopes to continue bringing together friends for future get togethers.
Rather than eat out like Shim’s family, millions of Koreans, gather at home and eat handmade foods, sometimes a rare occurrence for the millions who live the fast-paced city life which often leaves little time to eat in. The three day national holiday leads to the closure of most of the countries businesses and social media is alive with the lament of expats unable to complete many of life’s necessities during the holiday. Non-Koreans living throughout South Korea have found ways to capitalize on the rare multi-day holiday by traveling, enjoying the company of Korean friends and their families, or unwinding from the hectic lifestyle of South Korea’s major metropolitan areas.
For many, despite being so far from their families, Seollal reinvigorates those familial connections that are often lost throughout the year. Like Shim, social media and the ability to stay in touch with the people they love, remind them of how special this time of year is for those who celebrate Lunar New Year.
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