Korean Language Blog

New Year’s Superstitions Posted by on Jan 5, 2009 in Culture

The New Year is a time of insecurity and doubt for some people.  To ensure a successful year Korean people may perform rituals that seem strange to Americans.  Some of these rituals are performed out of habit.  Some of them are performed to prevent misfortune.  Whatever the reason, this post will be a combination of funny and odd practices that are sure to pique your curiosity.

You might be interested to know that some Koreans drink a type of liquor called kkwi balki sol (뀌밝이솔).  This tonic is supposed to clear one’s hearing for the New Year.  The tonic supposedly protects the drinker from overhearing any malicious gossip.  It’s also supposed to give the drinker the ability to accept wise advice.  Honestly, I’m not exactly sure of the ingredients that make up kkwi balki sol (뀌밝이솔).  This drink is home-made and contains a concoction of traditional and supersitious beliefs.  For example, I’ve heard that some people put a pinch of animal feces in the drinks.  In some parts of rural Korea, animal feces are considered healthy and often used as fertilizer.  In that case, I don’t really want to know what’s inside of a kkwi balki sol (뀌밝이솔)!

Another interesting supersition is that of jeya (제야).  Jeya (제야) is the custom of staying awake on sut dal ku mum (섣달그믐) or New Year’s Eve.  If the person doesn’t stay up until midnight of New Year’s Eve, it’s considered bad luck.  The local legends all say that your eyebrows will turn white and you’ll age faster than normal.  Since people hating aging, it’s a custom that people try not to put off.  The custom of jeya (제야) is also carried out because it’s thought that being awake and welcoming the New Year will lead to a bright, healthy and happy life.  Since this affects my future, I just stay awake until 12:00 am then go back to sleep at 12:01.

Another tradition involves a little story.  There is a boogeyman in Korean folklore called Yakwanggy (약왕기).  Apparently Mr. Yakwanggy (약왕기) likes to take trips to Korean households and steal their shoes.  As a result, Korean people hide their shoes inside the house.  Usually shoes are left outside of the door, but since Yakwanggy (약왕기) is the dude stealing people’s shoes, it’s just not safe to leave the shoes outside.  If your shoes are stolen, it’s considered bad luck.  Shoes symbolize the means or paths to a goal or aspiration.  If you no longer have the shoes you basically lack the means to carry out your New Year’s dreams.  Here’s the funny part: to confuse Yakwangyy (약왕기), people leave a noodle strainer outside of their doors.  I guess Yakwanggy (약왕기) is not the brightest goblin out there, because he sees the strainer and becomes enchanted by it.  He spends all his time counting the individual nooks and recounts them because he gets confused.  Then, finding that the sun is on the rise, Yakwanggy (약왕기) runs away.  Yakwanggy (약왕기) is the posterchild for the dark so yeah, sun is not his thing.

So whatever your New Year’s rituals are, just remember, don’t take it too seriously and just go with it for the fun of it.

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  1. james levine typecasting:

    Hello.This article was really fascinating, particularly since I was searching for thoughts on this topic last Thursday.

  2. seoulinme:


    This is a really interesting article as a Korean self learner I like reading these kinds of articles they are so informative on Korean culture 😀 and I really love that you used 한글 in your article its so much better than romanization in my opinion ^_^

    Thanks a lot 🙂

    많이 감사합니다 ^^