Traditionally, Koreans have counted their age by how many lunar new years they have experienced. Thus, in Korea, the start of the lunar year is everybody’s birthday. The start of the Korean New Year is called Solnal.
On this occasion a special soup is served, the ttokkuk, a rice-cake soup, sometimes with dumplings, in which case it is called ttok-mandukuk. It is said that a person who does not eat his ttokkuk will not grow older. Hence the question to children: ‘How many ttokkuk have you eaten?’ really means ‘How old are you?’ and the correct answer is not ‘Five cups’, but ‘I am five years old.’ If the soup contains dumplings you must eat a dumpling for every year of your age. Clearly this is easier to do at five than at fifty!
Like the Western New Year, Solnal is a time for new beginnings and reconciling old differences. The tradition is to visit the home of the oldest living male of one’s family and pay homage to the elders, living and dead. A straw rice sieve is hung on the door to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits.
In the West, as in Korea, people often make New Year’s resolutions. On New Year’s Day, the 1st of January, they may give up smoking, drinking alcohol, or otherwise try to change their ways. Unlike in Korea, however, it is an accepted fact that a lot of people will have given up on these resolutions even before the first month of the year is out. Some people say that making great life changes is too difficult in the middle of winter and should be done a little later – for example at the lunar new year, along with many Asians!