Chuseok Traditions Under Stress of Modernity


    September 28, 2023 08:12

    Chuseok, also called Hangawi or "great middle of autumn," falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It resembles the autumn festival of some other Asian cultures and celebrates a bountiful harvest under the full moon.
    Traditionally, Chuseok involves various customs and rituals, including the making of songpyeon, which are rice cakes shaped like crescent moons and filled with ingredients like sesame seeds, honey, and chestnuts.
    Families come together to prepare them and offer them in ancestral rites, and they also buy and prepare fresh seasonal fruit and other food as offerings to the departed.
    This is a time for families to visit their ancestral hometowns, pay respects to their ancestral graves, and spend time together. However, the passage of time has made this element seem like an ordeal to modern sensibilities due to the stress that comes with its obligations.
    For one thing, it involves wearisome long-distance travel on gridlocked highways, as well as unwanted domestic tasks and bitchy comments from family members about their perceived neglect or lack of professional achievement.
    Another traditional element is the making and eating of jeon or Korean pancakes, where fish, meat or vegetables are thinly sliced, seasoned, coated with flour and pan-fried in oil. But that too is being eroded because of modern health-conscious dietary preferences focused on lower carbohydrates and calories.
    But according to the Korean Studies Institute, traditional ritual tables do not have to be extravagant and each family can have a different style of setting up ritual tables. Offerings may include songpyeon, seasonal vegetables, fruit and alcohol, while jeon are not absolutely essential.
    New ideas are welcome, such as having a self-service frying station where family members can cook their preferred ingredients according to taste and dietary preference. Or there may be many other creative ways for families to come together, engage in a shared activity, and reduce any potential conflict that may arise during more rigid ancestral rites.
    The aim, after all, is happiness and harmony for the family, rather than strict adherence to every page of the rule book.
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