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Lunar New Year's Charye (차례)


제사. Image from New World Encyclopedia

One aspect of Korean lunar new year celebrations that I didn't touch on in my last entry is charye (차례). Not all families observe this tradition - just as not all families perform the sebae filial bow - and as a caveat I should point out that it's not something that I've observed myself. I've noticed that families that strongly identify themselves as Christian are less likely to observe these traditional familial rituals, although this is only anecdotal evidence and should hardly be considered a case study on the matter. Charye is a form of memorial service for one's ancestors that involves a ritualized system of displaying and consuming food, typically at the eldest son's house.


From the Seoul Metropolitan Government website:

Different from the usual sacrificial rites performed at midnight, the Charye is performed in the morning of holidays such as New Year's Day, Hansik (the 150th day after the winter solstice), Dano (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month), and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day falling on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month).

For the Charye rite, seasonal specialties are offered on the ritual table. For example, tteokguk (rice-cake soup) in January, culinary plants, melons, or noodles in spring, new grain in fall, and patjuk (thick red bean soup with rice cakes) in winter are all main foods for the ritual.

While the Seoul Metropolitan website references a 'ritual table' it's worth noting that - as The Korea Times article mentions - there is an important system to how the dishes should be arranged and presented to one's ancestors. As Sunkyoung at Everyday Seoul writes, red food is presented to the east and white food to the west, meat to the east and fish to the west.* The tops of fruit are also cut off to make it easier for the family's ancestors (or their ghosts) to access the pulp inside. For those who are interested - or who would like to increase their vocabulary - here are two images that highlight the dishes served for Charye and the instruments used to present these dishes. Click to enlarge:


Left: Image from somi1223 Right: Image from 보은 사이버 효 사랑관



* It should be noted that traditions and culture are dynamic forces and not stagnant entities. As such, families can adapt the memorial services in a myriad of ways. For example, the lead-in picture to this entry features grapes and bananas while Sunkyoung mentions offering melons and pineapple to her family's ancestors and hoping that the ghosts will accept / recognize them -- yet none of these fruits are included in the above diagram.

Tags: events, traditional events (명절)
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