September 13, 2019 07:17
Ancestral ritual tables do not have to be extravagant to display due filial respect, scholars say.
According to Kim Mi-young at the Korean Studies Institute, traditional ritual tables were simple. "Each family had a different style of setting up ritual tables, and put different things on the table. For ritual tables on Lunar New Year's Day and Chuseok, our ancestors usually kept it simple, with fruits harvested in season, songpyeon [crescent-shaped rice cakes] made with rice harvested in season, and tea or alcohol. These are the three main things that were on the table."
This is different from the tables people set up on the anniversary of an ancestor's death, where they set a full table from rice and soup to vegetables, seafood and meat dishes. "These days, people tend to confuse these two different types of table. The purpose of ritual tables on Chuseok and Lunar New Year is to recall ancestors' virtues with new harvests," Kim explained.
She warns that the current extravagant style is not sustainable and cannot be handed down to generations to come because people are simply too busy. "In an agrarian society, families tended to live together in the same village and would gather to prepare for rituals for a week or two, with fruits and crops they grew," Kim said. "But it's hard for busy people today to do it by themselves in a day or two."
There is no clear reason why ritual tables became more extravagant. Researchers believe it became complicated in recent times after the Japanese colonial period, industrialization and urbanization.
The majority of opinion is that as the country became richer, people started showing off. Added to this was a Korean culture of regarding sharing food in large quantities as a virtue. People considered it a good thing to share a big table full of food with their family now they only get to see them on major holidays.
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