SEOUL — If you don’t have to be driving, you’re better off staying off the roads.

More than 40 million people head home today for the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday and officials expect at least 20 million cars on the roads.

Military safety officials are requesting that extra caution is taken during the holiday. “If you must travel during this holiday period, careful planning is essential for a safe trip,” said Col. Jeff Christiansen, Area I commander.

Christiansen issued an order restricting Area I official vehicle usage to mission-essential trips between Wednesday and Sunday.

“Vehicle drivers must be experienced,” Christiansen said. “A risk analysis will be performed for any operation which requires travel during this period. Our goal is to keep this period accident-free.”

Though Sollal, the traditional Korean New Year, is officially marked Thursday, most South Koreans will be off from Wednesday through Sunday.

Choe Young-nam, of the South Korea Highway Corporation’s Traffic Management Division, warned of bumper-to-bumper traffic on some major inter-city highways. Choe said the six-hour trip from Seoul to Pusan will take more than 10 hours on Wednesday. Friday will see the heaviest traffic as people return to Seoul, but Saturday and Sunday also will see thick congestion.

During the holidays, public offices, companies and off-base banks will be closed. Most department stores and shopping malls will be closed Thursday, but many entertainment facilities and movie theaters will not close for the holiday.

Commissaries on most bases will be closed Thursday, with regular schedules resuming afterward, officials have said.

Along with Chusok, the Korean Thanksgiving, Sollal is considered the biggest traditional holiday in South Korea. This is the year of the monkey according to the Oriental Zodiac.

On Thursday, the first monkey day, most Korean people will get up early in the morning and dress up to bow to the elderly. The bow is a respectful greeting ushering in a new year; good wishes and advice for an upcoming new year are given in return. Money could be a reward for children, too.

A ritual new year’s greetings to the ancestors follows. Families prepare various traditional foods and set up a special table for the service. Most Koreans will be sure to have a rice cake soup among their treats. After their home greetings, Koreans visit their ancestors’ graves to pay tribute.

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