A Guide to the Chuseok Ancestral Memorial Service

      September 21, 2007 09:33

      The ancestral memorial service is the central event of Chuseok, Korea's most important holiday. It's a complex affair, and many Koreans are unsure about the principles for setting out the Chuseok ritual table or the procedure for the service and just follow what others do. Here, the Chosun Ilbo explains the correct procedure in easy-to-follow steps.

      ◆ How to Set out the Chuseok Ritual Table

      Make five rows on the table. In the first row from the folding screen, place songpyon, goblets, spoons and chopsticks. In the second row, place grilled and seasoned meat or fish (jeok) and pan-fried dishes (jeon). In the third row, put soup, in the fourth row, slices of dried meat or fish and seasoned vegetables and in the fifth row, fruit in odd numbers. The principles may vary from region to region or from family to family, but the following seven principles are common. Remember, however, the most important thing is sincerity in preparing the dishes.

      Assuming that the ancestral tablet is the north:

      1. Red fruit should be put in the east and white fruit in the west.

      2. Place jujube, chestnuts, pears and persimmons in that order from the left. You can change the order of pears and persimmons.

      3. Put beef jerky on the left, and shikhye (an authentic Korean drink made from fermented rice) on the right.

      4. Place kimchi in the east and seasoned and steamed greens in the west.

      5. Place meat in the west and fish in the east.

      6. Let the fish face east with its tail in the west.

      7. Put rice in the west and soup in the east.

      ◆ Some Baffling Traditions Explained

      Cut off the top and the bottom of fruit. An official from the liturgical committee at the SungKyunkwan University explains, "The basic principle is to peel the fruit, but after peeling the fruits, the colors change, so it is recommended to cut off only some parts." Cutting off the top and bottom also makes it easier to pile them up. Soy sauce should be served on the table in case the ancestors feel dishes are insufficiently seasoned.

      No kalchi (hairtail), samchi (a kind of mackerel) or kongchi (saury) should be served on the table. In Korea, fish, whose names end with "chi" are considered negative, and they can also smell bad. Nor should peaches appear on the table, since Korean spirits don't like peach trees. Spicy seasonings such as powdered red pepper, garlic and green onions should not be included in the dishes for the Chuseok ritual table. But an official from the National Folk Museum of Korea adds, "The ancestral memorial service aims to honor our ancestors, so it is permissible to put dishes that they enjoyed in their life on the table."

      ◆ The ceremony

      1. Place the paper ancestral tablet on the altar and fumigate the altar with incense. The head of the family, who leads the service, pours liquor into the goblet three times, and bows twice.

      2. Everyone bows twice.

      3. Pour liquor for each ancestor and put chopsticks over the songpyeon.

      4. All should leave the room for a while or lie on their faces after shielding the table by setting up a folding screen in order for the souls of ancestors to eat the food.

      5. Remove chopsticks. After everyone bows again, the service is over.

      6. Burn the ancestral tablet. Then everyone may eat and praise the ancestors' virtues.

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