Sol Nal (Sol meaning a New Lunar Year, and Nal meaning day) is the biggest festival in Korean along with Chuseok. Just like Christams or Thanks Giving, Sol Nal is the day when families and relatives gather and spend time together in a long time. On this three day holiday of Sol Nal, there are four “highlights” that have been a tradition to this holiday; soup eating, visiting graves of ancestors, traffic, and my personal favorite, bowing to adults.
In Korea, many people count their age not based on their birthday, but respect to the first day of the Lunar Year. In addition, on the new day of the Lunar Year, Korean people eat a bowl ddokguk (soup made of rice cake) as a meaning of getting one year older. Although typically one bowl of soup was sufficient, I used to eat more than one (up to three) when I was a young boy thinking that I would be able to become an adult faster.
Visiting graves has been a sign of respect and courtesy towards the ancestor passed away. Typically families would visit the grave of their grandparents (or their great grandparents for young ones). Families would bring flowers, trim off grown grass, and bow or pray (depending on the religion).
For people living in Seoul traffic can be the most stressful part of the holiday. On Sol Nal most families and relatives meet together at the house where their parents (grandparents for the young ones) are. Not too surprisingly many parents seem to live out in the countryside. Because there is average of three or four cars per parent try to get out of Seoul, it has been a pain trying to arrive at the destination. Sometimes it could take up 10 minutes just to move a single meter!
As the last generation of our family (so far), Sol Nal had been my favorite day of the year. Again, as a sign of respect and courtesy, people would bow to adults a generation or more above. When we bow, we would say “Sae hae bok ma nee ba deu se yo” meaning, I hope you have a fortunate year. Once a person bows, the adult would reply by saying something similar and by giving the person who bowed pocket money. Typically I would bow to my parents, five aunts and uncles, and two grandparents. If I gained ten dollars from each adult, that would be a hundred and sixty dollars in a day! And of course, I received more as a got older. Unfortunately for me, because most of my relatives have been overseas for quite a while, my income has not been that great since.
Although these are not the only thing that people do, I hope this helped you gain a picture of what typical Korean families do on Sol. Sae hae bok ma nee ba deu se yo!