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There : Holidays

February 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Lunar, or “Chinese” New Year, has come and gone. For those that don’t know, in Asia, it’s a big deal. In Korea, it consisted of a 3 day holiday for most, beginning on a Wednesday and ending Friday. In America, this would be a 5 day holiday, counting the weekend, but it seems that a lot more people here, even with more upscale jobs, have to work at least a little on the weekend. Oh yeah, it’s the year of the rat. Charming, eh?

The typical Korean Lunar New Years is similar to Chusok, in that it’s about going home, and that it’s traditionally much more of a Buddhist holiday. That’s not to say that the idea of it is Buddhist, at least as far as I can tell. But they have plenty of traditions revolving around it.

Regardless of religion, apparently one must eat a type of rice cake soup for the New Years celebration. It’s pretty good, but hard to eat quickly (because the rice cake, which is not what most Americans think of as rice cake, is really chewy). I think the traditional meal is most commonly eaten at the house of the oldest brother, and there seems to be a similar amount of “side swapping”, like Christmas. That is, at least these days, families go to the wife’s side as well as the husband’s side celebrations.

Buddhists, I’m told, go to temple and prepare offering meals so their ancestors will bless them with good luck. I asked what happened if you cooked poorly; or, if you had bad luck, did it mean you weren’t a good cook, but I couldn’t get any answers on that. I believe there’s a fair amount of grave visiting, too. Graves here often consist of big grassy mounds or drawers in a sort of mausoleum.

Christians seem to mostly just eat the soup and pray. Like Chusok, gifts are given. And by gifts, I mean fruit. Or decorative baskets of Spam. No kidding. Even with an after holiday sale, there were plenty of Gift Boxes full of American Hormell Spam. $45 worth. And lots of fruit. There were also boxes full of nicely arranged personal care things (like toothpaste), and I hear socks are kind of common to give. Exciting, huh? Young children can get red envelopes full of money from their elders, which is exciting. But I was told I’m far too old. Alas.

Today was Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated in Korea, with a twist. The 14th of February is Valentine’s Day, in which the girl buys things for the guy, and plans the day for the guy. The 14th of March is “White Day” in which the guy reciprocates. It’s called White Day because guys are supposed to buy girls white chocolate or marshmallows. The 14th of April is “Black Day”, for singles. I’m not really sure what they do, maybe get drunk. There is also a holiday on the 11th of November that celebrates BbaeBbaeLow, a Pockey-like long biscuit snack covered in chocolate (which looks sort of like a 1, thus it being celebrated on 11/11). Anyway, you buy snacks for children. And you thought US holidays were commercialized.

Finally, month anniversaries are a bit less important here. Instead, 100th day anniversaries are the big dating events. On your 100th day, you should buy your girlfriend 100 roses, which are cheaper here than in the US, but still expensive. I hear that some people go as far as to buy cars for their girlfriends, but that can’t possibly be the norm, and shouldn’t be considered common in any way. It’s just a big deal.

For me, a lot of these holidays are interesting, but often they’re more boring than usual, because there isn’t anywhere for me to go. That’s life, I guess.

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Categories: Being There