A Kim Family Tradition for New Year’s Day


By Stephanie Kim

As a kid, there was one dress I didn’t fuss about wearing: a hanbok, the Korean traditional dress worn on New Year’s Day. Customarily, men would wear a fancy top with pants, while women wore a beautiful blouse with a long skirt. But at my family gatherings, only children would wear a hanbok. For this reason, I felt like a princess every New Year’s Day.

Once my mom finished fitting my hanbok, we’d gather with my dad’s side of the family in the morning and with my mom’s side in the late afternoon. The day would begin with a delicious meal, as everyone looked forward to the main dish: dduk gook. This soup consists of thinly sliced oval-shaped rice cakes, strips of fried eggs, shredded seaweed bits, chopped scallions and homemade dumplings in refreshing anchovy broth. The white rice cakes in the soup symbolize a new beginning for the New Year.

After everyone finishes feasting, our family would do sae bae, a traditional deep bow to the floor, as a way to pay respects and wish blessings to one another for the New Year. The younger generations would do sae bae to the older generations. This was my favorite part. I remember trying my best to keep good posture and balance as I tried to do an elegant sae bae. Although I almost always managed to topple over or step on my long skirt, I remember my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents smiling at me as I politely said, “Saehae bok mani badeuseyo” – meaning, “May you receive many blessings in the New Year.” I would receive their wise words, blessings, and money in return.

For dinner, dduk gook was served again. But this upset no one. We could eat dduk gook for days. After feasting some more, we would digest our food over a game of yut nori, a Korean traditional board game involving the act of throwing five wooden sticks, and lots of laughter and yelling.

The object of the game is to advance your pieces to the center of the board through the points you earn after throwing the sticks. Each stick has a flat side and a rounded side with letters inscribed on it. The best combination to have is mo, which happens when all the rounded sides of the sticks are facing up – this awards a player five steps forward and another throw. Whenever someone managed to get this, there would be cheering and shouting followed by high-fives all around. And to continue this time of fun and friendly competition, my family would then play multiple rounds of hwatu, a Korean card game similar to poker.

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But apart from all of this, what I treasure most about New Year’s Day is the opportunity I have to start the New Year with the ones I love and cherish dearly.

Stephanie is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected].