Kick-off the year of the Rabbit in Seoul - how business travelers can celebrate asia’s biggest holiday
Wednesday 26, January 2011
The Lunar New Year is one of Korea’s most anticipated holidays for a number of reasons: office workers and students get a five-day break, everybody ages one year according to the lunar calendar, and Koreans nationwide travel for hours to reunite with their families.
Though the exact date of Lunar New Year’s Day varies according to the Gregorian calendar, it usually falls sometime between the latter half of January and the first half of February. This year, Lunar New Year’s Day is on February 3, which means that Seoul-bound business travelers and vacationers alike should be prepared for a visit that’s anything but ordinary.
A common practice among residents of countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year is returning to their hometowns, or to the towns where their families reside, for the holiday. At home, Korean families make elaborate culinary preparations not only for a customary feast, but also for ancestral rites that are typically held over the holidays.
The main traditional dish for the occasion is tteokguk, a meat-based soup that contains sliced rice cakes, vegetables and eggs. Another Lunar New Year delicacy is songpyeon, or rice cakes with a range of fillings, from sesame seed and honey to mashed chestnut cream and red bean paste. Songpyeon are also typically consumed during Chuseok, another major Korean holiday.
Regarding traffic and transportation, although the situation in Seoul doesn’t quite match China’s infamous scramble for public transportation, it is in the same league. As such, visitors are advised to avoid domestic travel during the holiday period as travel times between cities and regions tend to double or even triple due to the sheer volume of people taking trips. Bus, train and plane tickets are typically booked as early as a month in advance. The migration is so immense that national broadcasting stations run special traffic reports throughout the holidays.
However, the upside of this phenomenon is that most traffic is outbound from Seoul, meaning that during the Lunar New Year, the normally frenetic capital becomes noticeably quieter. Visitors to the city may enjoy more freedom of movement, but they will find that many local businesses are closed for the holidays. Those that remain open are typically run by owners who call Seoul home or are venues holding special holiday events.
Holiday-themed events and activities, including traditional games and performances, are staged at palaces and museums throughout Seoul. Namsangol Hanok Village holds an annual celebration to highlight traditional Lunar New Year holiday rituals, like songpyeon-making and customary table-setting, as well as folk games, dances and songs. Visitors can take part in similar festivities at nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Another way to enjoy the holiday is to visit one of Seoul’s many museums. Two that tend to hold special exhibitions or events during the holidays are the Seoul Museum of History and the Lotte World Folk Museum, both of which are home to many national treasures.
There is also plenty of entertainment available for those who prefer to stay in during the holidays, as TV and radio stations feature special programming for the many people who are sure to tune in during family gatherings. Lunar New Year holiday programming typically includes traditional dance and music performances, as well as family-oriented movies and variety shows.
There is an old Korean folk tale called The Rabbit and the Tiger, in which a rabbit talks a tiger out of eating it with the promise of greater rewards. The rabbit, in keeping with its status as the most prudent and clever of the 12 creatures making up the Chinese Zodiac, ends up emerging victorious. For this reason, it is said that the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit heralds success in business.
Activities in and popular venues in Seoul during the Lunar New Year holidays include:
1. Namsangol Hanok Village:
Address: 84-1, Pil-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Hours: Mar.-Oct.: 9am-9pm, Nov.-Mar.: 9am-8pm
Days Closed: Tuesdays
Transportation: Subway Lines 3 or 4, Chungmuro Station, Exit 3
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Address: 22 Sajing-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Hours: Mar.-Oct.: 9am~6pm; Nov.-Feb.: 9am~5pm
Days Closed: Tuesdays
Transportation: Subway Line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit 5
3. Lotte World Folk Museum
Address: 40-1 Lotteworld, Jamsil 3-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
Transportation: Subway Lines 2 or 8, Jamsil Station, Exit 4 (direct access from station)
4. Seoul Museum of History
Address: Sinmunno 2-ga 2-1 (Saemunan-gil 50), Jongno-gu, Seoul
Transportation: Subway Line 5, Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 7. Go Straight for 7 min
Subway Line 5, Seodaemun Station, Exit 4. Go Straight for 5 min
Bus 160, 161, 260, 270, 271, 300, 370, 470, 471, 601, 704, 720, 7023, 9602, 9710
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