Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seollal New Year's Celebration - Year of the Sheep

The roadways of Korea are likely quite congested right about now, with many people trying to inch their way back home. Traditionally, Seollal (Lunar New Year) is a time when families gather at the home of the oldest male relative to perform ancestral rituals, eat special foods, and play traditional games. Years ago, all businesses typically closed down during this three day festival and even now, many doors were shuttered on February 19 - the most important day. It is a birthday celebration for all Koreans, each turning one year older during Soellal. Gifts are traditionally given (although money is often preferred nowadays). Elders bestow blessings on the younger generation, while the young people pay respect to older members of the family.

On Friday, I joined a few colleagues to attend the free performance held at the Folk Museum in downtown Seoul. On this pleasant winter day, the downtown area was a busy area, with many others taking advantage of the time off of work/school.   
Musicians playing bamboo flutes and drummers began with a rather tranquil piece, fitting for the Year of the Sheep.

Some women dancers then joined the ensemble.

My favorite was the lion dancers. Two young men formed each lion, whose shaggy yarn fur reminded me of creatures from Sesame Street such as Barkley or even Snufalapogus. At one point, a lion "ate" a rabbit, with the stuffed animal disappearing in its wide wooden mouth. 
Later, some children (several of whom were wearing traditional hanboks) were invited to join in, dancing and even riding on top of the lions. Nearby, some children flew small, colorful kites.

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