Korean New Year is the annual Lunar New Celebration for Koreans on the peninsula and beyond. As a Lunar New Year Korean New Year occurs at the same time as the more well known Chinese New Year and Tet in Vietnam among others.
Is it the same in North and South Korea?
Whilst the holidays of North and South Korea have diverged over the years and cultural differences have become more pronounced (Kim Jong Il’s birthday, for instance, is obviously not a South Korean holiday), there are nevertheless some festivals that the two countries still have in common. Korean New Year is one such holiday. Of course how it is celebrated and the importance varies.
When is Korean New Year?
Korean New Year takes place during January or February, during the second full moon after the winter solstice. This makes it basically identical to Chinese New Year – and if it walks like a dog, looks like a dog and barks like a dog, one might argue that it’s pretty much a dog! Do not, however, have the temerity to suggest as much to Korean friends; Korean New Year is Korean New Year as far as they’re concerned. To avoid such nasty semantic contretemps, simply be politically correct and call it ‘Lunar New Year’. The same goes for Vietnam!
A great time not to be in China?
Whatever you call it and however you feel about it being conflated with its functionally identical Chinese counterpart, the fact remains there is a Chinese national holiday going on at the exact same time over the border. This is the biggest mass movment of people on the planet. In our mind this makes it a very good time not to be in China. We therefore offer a Chinese Lunar Korean New Year tour.
How do people celebrate Korean New Year?
It is typically a family holiday during which immediate and extended family get together to feast on traditional Korean food and pay homage to their ancestors. In South Korea, close to 40 million people travel to see relatives during the holiday, and Lunar New Year across Asia is the largest mass migration of people on earth (specifically in China, and hence the reason it’s a good idea to escape the Middle Kingdom during this period).
Typical foods eaten during Korean New Year include tteokguk (a kind of soup with sliced rice cake) and jeon, a savoury pancake also eaten on Korean birthdays (which have their own strange age-reckoning system).
Generally speaking, whilst some things tend to be closed during this period and Pyongyang tends to be colder than the proverbial witch’s tit, it still marks a great time to be not in China. We cannot emphasise this enough.
What is it like to visit North Korea during Korean New Year?
The main reason we run a yearly tour to Pyongyang during Korean New Year is because of the national holiday. Lunar New Year in the DPRK is less of a big deal than it is in China and there are certainly less things closed.
Winter in general though is a much quieter and indeed colder time to be in North Korea. In our minds this makes it a great time to visit the country if you want to avoid the crowds. Celebration wise there is nothing specifically different per se about visiting at this time. To Korean new year is more of a family holiday than the Day of the Sun for example.
Fun fact, when you include Korean New Year, Western New Year and the Aforementioned Day of the Sun then Koreans actually 3 New Years!
We run an annual trip (usually) which you can check out here New Year tour.