Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year (known in Korea as 설날 , Soellal) always makes me wonder: why do so many/almost all lunar calendars start at the new moon rather than the full moon? The full moon rising is one of the most glorious sights in skywatching and is unmissable in anything but totally overcast conditions. The new moon is invisible under any circumstances. As far as I know, no lunar calendar begins at the full moon; certainly the three best known, Hebrew, Islamic and Chinese, begin at the new moon.

The three day holiday in South Korean falls on Sunday 7th, Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th this year. For many people, Saturday 6th makes a four-day weekend. (I’m on three weeks’ holidays anyway). But essential services, transport and retail, to name but three, continue as usual; indeed they are extra busy -long-distance public transport is often booked out months in advance and the motorways are chockablock for most of the whole time. I have my train tickets already.

PS added 6 February – there is an extra public holiday this year. Seollal falls on Monday, so the three-day holiday is Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but the government has also designated Wednesday as a public holiday as well. A report in the Korea Herald quotes the ministry of transport estimating that 36 million Koreans will be travelling somewhere this weekend.


3 thoughts on “Lunar New Year

  1. This is off the top of my head, and before sufficient intake of coffee.
    Perhaps the lunar calendar begins at new moon because that’s whe the lunar cycle begins. The full moon is the end of that cycle, so not as accurate a representation of the start of the year.


    • Yes, but why is the lunar cycle taken to start at the new moon? Cycles are by definition beginningless and endless. (Actually, the full moon is in the middle of that cycle.)
      Thinking about it, days, weeks, lunar months, years (at least in the northern hemisphere) and life are all conceptualised as cycling from cold/dark/potential/rest/small to hot/night/growth/activity/large and back.


  2. This start small/dark/cold so they can grow? Plants begin their life as a seed underground and then grow into a plant; therefore the moon begins its life unseeable and grows into the full moon? If it’s not there, you can count the beginning from when you can see it, rather than halfway through the period when you can see it?

    On another note, while I was in Israel, someone in the group said, “Oh, it’s chockablock.” And our tour guide asked, “What means chockablock?” “It means ‘full as a goog’.”


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