The Role of Hanbok in Korean Celebrations
In South Korea, the hanbok can be worn for many events and special occasions. But there are definitely three events every year where every household gathers to celebrate a special rite, decorated by the hanbok. We’ll walk you through these events and the rites millions of Koreans follow every year.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
A Travel in Time Called Seollal
Seollal is the celebration of the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. The celebration usually lasts three days: the day before the Korean New Year, Korean New Year itself, and the day after the Korean New Year.
It usually happens during the two first months of the Gregorian calendar, between January and February. You might have heard about the Chinese New Year celebration, well, Seollal actually happens at the same time. Let’s say it’s somehow the same celebration, with different names and traditions. In fact, this is one of the most important events for Korean people.
It’s an opportunity for families to gather together and honor the memory of their ancestors. To do this, the Koreans get up early and put on the seolbim (설빔), a hanbok that is only worn for the celebration of Seollal. Then, they proceed through to practice many ancestral rites to honor their ancestors.
Tradition + Food= A Time for Family to Reunite
During Seollal, there’s a lot of food involved, and it’s actually quite important for the development of the event.
The dishes should be as good for the eyes as for the taste buds. The tradition is that during the family meal, the ancestors join the rest of the guests to eat. During that period, Korean tables will be filled with rice cakes soup (Tteokguk), ravioli ( Mandu) and a lot of traditional drinks such as Sik-hye, which is a Korean traditional drink with sweet rice.
Ready? Jump in! We’re Going to Chuseok Now
The second main celebration where Korean people have to wear hanbok is called Chuseok. Chuseok is the harvest festival that is happening in both North and South Korea between September and October (during the autumn equinox).
On the morning of Chuseok, the children greet their parents in a traditional way while preparing them various typical dishes.
Among the dishes of the ceremony are special haepssal rice, alcohol and songpyeong cakes. The family then gathers around the table set up for the occasion to share a meal. After that, the family meets for the custom seongmyo. This custom is to greet the ancestors of the family. This is a typical practice in Korean traditions, visiting the graves of their ancestors before taking a new simple meal.
The people who are not traveling across the country to visit their family can enjoy all the events Seoul is offering. During these days people will wear hanbok and visit the palaces of Seoul while celebrating the festivity.
Wedding Celebrations and the Role of Hanbok
Last, the occasion where most Korean people will wear hanbok is their wedding ceremony 폐백(pyaebaek). While nowadays brides get to wear a white dress of their choice, they always have to save a special time to wear the hanbok and have the traditional Korean ceremony as well.
Traditionally, the bride will wear a pink or purple hanbok, while the groom wears a blue hanbok.
There is also a special ceremony after the traditional wedding. The bride and groom will bow to their parents who are seated behind a low table stocked with traditional and symbolic wedding foods such as chestnuts, jujubes, and dried persimmons. The dates and chestnuts are a Korean representation of the bride’s fertility. After the fruit and nuts are offered, the parents of the groom will serve sake in return. The parents will bless the newlywed couple, and there will be an entertaining round of “catch the jujubes and chestnuts” to predict how many children the couple will have!
Although these three events are the main occasion for Korean people to wear traditional hanbok, there are several events where you can still catch people using the hanbok, like presentations, festivals, or simply to visit the temples and palaces.
While in this modern times using a hanbok in a daily basis it’s not very practical -or comfortable- there’s a large crowd of young adults that love to reconnect with their roots by using what we now call the modern hanbok.