K-Culture Special: Traditional Korean Games For Lunar New Year

 K-Culture Special: Traditional Korean Games For Lunar New Year
*This article was originally published for Lunar New Year 2017.

As previously discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of our “Seollall Series,” the Lunar New Year, known to Koreans as “Seollal,” is an important time of traditions and rich history. Apart from cultural customs and delicious foods, families use the holiday to spend time together by playing games and having fun!

Some of the most popular Korean games that families play during the Lunar New Year are: Yut Nori, Jegichagi, and Neolttwigi. While these games are also played throughout the year, they are very popular during the Seollal season.

1. Yut Nori (윷놀이)

Yut Nori (윷놀이), sometimes also called nyout/yut, is very traditional and is the most-played game during Seollal. It is considered to be a social event, where both players and onlookers enjoy the fun. Yut Nori consists of a board called malpan (말판), which can be made of cloth, paper, plastic, or wood. Jangjak Yut (장작윷) are four sticks, used kind of like dice. Four mal (말), which also means horse in Korean, are the markers and are used like Monopoly pieces: the top hat, thimble, race car, etc. However, buttons, small stones, and coins can be used as mal for this Korean game.

Yut Nori (윷놀이)
Cr. Global Pedestrian
Wooden Malpan (말판)
Cloth Malpan (말판)
Plastic Malpan (말판)
Malpan Photos: Cr. Tokki Bunny

You can learn how to play Yut by watch this video by kcultureportal.

To see the game in action, you can check it out on Season One of “Roommates” in Episode 25, where some of the members play Yut Nori with village folks. Also, you can watch members of Got7 play Yut Nori here, complete with English subtitles.

Fun Fact: In the past, this game was commonly used as fortune telling, notably by the mountain and small village neighborhoods.

2. Jegichagi (제기차기)

Jegichagi (제기차기) is essentially a hacky sack game. A shuttlecock-like item called jegi (제기) is kicked in the air, preventing it from landing on the ground. In a one-on-one game, the player with the highest number of kicks wins. During a group game, the jegi is passed to random players in a circle and the player who lets it drop loses. There are two different versions when playing jegichagi. One is Ddangganghji (땅강아지), where the foot touches the ground after each kick, and the other is Hullangyi (헐랭이), in which case the foot continues kicking the jegi without toughing the ground.

Jegichagi (제기차기)
Cr. Arirang

You can watch idol group ZE:A play Jegichagi in “The GURUPOP Show” by clicking here.

3. Neolttwigi (널뛰기)

Neolttwigi (널뛰기) is a kind of a standing see-saw and is traditionally played by women and girls. Two people stand on each end of a plank and take turns jumping in a see-saw manner. This game takes much skill as balance and timing is key. It is believed that the game was played by the Yangban women (noble women) in order to see over the walls that fenced in their residence since they were not allowed to go beyond the walls. They also put on their best outfits when jumping because potential suitors may be trying to catch a glimpse of them from beyond the walls. Over the years, it has become something of an acrobatic performance. Performers now play the game while jumping rope and doing special tricks, such as back flips.

Neolttwigi (널뛰기)
Cr. Korea Tourism Board

A neolttwigi acrobatic performance can be viewed by clicking here.

Other games that are played during major holidays like Seollal are kite-flying known as Yeonnalligi (연날리기), a game known as Paengichigi (파엔기치기), where you spin a top and then use a whip to try to knock over other players’ tops, and a game by the name of Gongginori (공기놀이), a game similar to jacks.

Yeonnalligi (연날리기)
Cr. kfriend
Gongginori (공기놀이)
Cr. MediaSoom

Amidst the entertaining games, family members will exchange personal stories and news. This may consist of love interests, job advancements, and plans for the future. Because Seollal is a time for health and prosperity, bleak subjects such as death and disease are strongly discouraged during the occasion.

These games are fun to play during any occasion— whether you are Korean or a foreigner! Try out some of these games with friends, and see how well you can play. You never know if you will have a natural knack for it.

Have you played any of these traditional Korean games before? Let us know in the comment section below!

Panamami started listening to Kpop and watching Kdramas in early Feb 2015. She finally succeeded in getting her best friend into it a year later. Hey favorite group is BTS and her bias is Rap Monster. She also listens to Jay Park and Illionaire and loves discovering new songs with her friend. Panamami loves animals and has a dog and two cats. When not watching Kdramas or working, she can be seen working at a horse farm.

Media: As Credited

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