Glimpses of Seollal
This year we weren’t able to get down to Busan for the Lunar New Year, or Seollal 설날, to celebrate in the traditional manner with my in-laws due to schedule conflicts. It’s too bad because according to the weather forecasts and my sister-in-law they were practically celebrating the beginning of spring down south with 60F sunny skies while we muddled through with our 30F gusts. On the other hand, it was pleasant not to be apart of the massive group of travelers getting out of Seoul by plane, train, bus or car this year. Not everyone can get back to their parents or grandparents home for the holiday and so we planned a tteokguk get together at our house for our Korean friends in the same boat as ourselves unable to get down to Busan for the holiday. No matter what holiday it is, Korean or American, I think it’s important to get people together, his friends or mine, and if nothing else celebrate being together, celebrate each other and celebrate that we have a family of friends. I also think holding on to traditions is extremely important and though we couldn’t have our own altar table for a charye ceremony we could make rice cake soup, tteokguk 떡국, and eat it together. We headed to Mangwon Market the day before Seollal and scooted along slowly behind other people with the same mission as ourselves. The crowds at the market were the only crowds that we saw the entire holiday weekend thankfully. Most people had the same sorts of things in their bags: rice cake in different forms, oranges or nectarines, chest nuts, fish and meat all to set their altar tables. My mother-in-law had sent up rice cake for our soup and other fish and sauces before the holiday to ensure that we were fed well even if she couldn’t be the one to prepare all of the food for us. We bought tofu, nectarines, oysters to make our favorite kind of rice cake soup and some snacks to go along with my home made peanut butter cookies, some fish to fry to go along with our kimchi pancakes and some other little bits for our “family” of 8 to feast on. Since it was to be a feast of Korean food, my husband was in the kitchen for a couple of hours getting everything ready. He had called his mother the day before to ask a few questions about recipes and the how-to’s of certain dishes and was ready to go on Seollal morning. I’m pretty lucky with him and his family as far as holidays and food preparation go. When we go down to Busan, his mother handles all of the food while I help set the altar table after it’s all done and then my husband and I do the dishes after we’ve all eaten. Celebrating here at home, my husband does the food preparation and I do the setting of the table and other arrangements and decorations. I made the peanut butter cookies and the kimchi pancakes and some deviled eggs and unpacked the apple alcohol I’d purchased while I was down in Cheongsong for the Apple Festival and my husband handled the rest.
Our friends showed up around 4 and eagerly feasted on the delicious oyster rice cake soup and salty side dishes that only Busan natives can really appreciate. They all know how well my husband can cook, most of them were housemates with him at one point or another, and they always seem thrilled to be invited to these occasions. I know my husband enjoys cooking and takes pride in preparing everything just so, yet after every get together he always says that is the last one.
We ate and drank together and everyone told stories that this group has shared hundreds of times before but still bring about laughter every time they’re heard again. By the time the party was over there was only one nectarine and some cookies from the market leftover. We wrapped up some kimchi that my mother-in-law had shipped up to us in two containers for some friends who don’t get nearly the amount of food sent to them from Busan as we do and sent our friends home tipsy and full.