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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.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 27th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
What did she say about it?
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 28th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
What American holidays are there that bring families together? I'd guess Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I don't know if it's common for extended families to meet together for those holidays in America or if that's just what happens for us. (We usually spend time with my mother's mom and sisters; my father's side of the family lives too far away and I've only seen them once in my life.)
Jan. 27th, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC)
We never do this, for three reasons:

1. We're Christian, and my Mama thinks it's unnecessary. We pray, instead.

2. She thinks it'd be odd for us, since we're American.

3. She probably doesn't remember what goes where.

Although, like I said when we spoke on the phone (YAY! I got to hear your voice!), we still bow, we just change the wording to "May God bless you in the coming year."
Jan. 28th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
Those are all good reasons not to do it! After our phone conversation I was tempted to edit this entry a little bit, but exhaustion set in and I went to sleep instead. Plus, I already added the caveat that my observations only come from the people I've talked with -- which is hardly a large sample size.
Jan. 28th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
Just found your blog...

I read some of your comments on Hub of Sparkle, Melissa's blog, and Joy's blog, and thought you sounded intelligent and thoughtful. Here I come to your blog and find a WEALTH of in-depth Korean cultural information, well-researched and clearly presented with personal experiences thrown in!


It will take me awhile to catch up with your entries, but I'm now an official "fan."

Keep up the good work sir.

P.S. Where the heck is Uijeongbu? (You know I'm going to look it up on Google the second I post this... just curious).
Jan. 29th, 2009 01:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Just found your blog...
I've been a little worried recently that my comments on other blogs have been curt to the point of not leaving a very good impression, so thank you for the letting me know that there's at least one person out there who doesn't feel the same! As for providing Korean cultural information, I think that comes from a combination of being naturally inquisitive and studying anthropology while in university.

Most of my older entries are in the "a day in the life" format so I don't know how interesting those will be for you -- but thank you all the same for the kind words! I stopped by your blog and it looks very well-written; I'm going to add it to my sidebar and RSS feed as soon as I finish this comment.

The city of Uijeongbu is about 75 minutes north of Seoul City Hall. I'm not sure how familiar you are with Seoul, but I attend Korean languages classes at an academy near Insadong (the main tourist street) and the commute takes an hour each way.
Jan. 29th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Just found your blog...
Heh heh. I don't comment a lot on blogs for fear of sounding a bit curt myself. There are just too many atrocities out here in blog land. And it bothers me when people think horribly written, badly formatted, generally uninteresting/unoriginal blogs are so fabulous (this seems to happen a lot in the Korean blogosphere especially).

However, there are also some jems.

I looked at your profile, and you arrived the same time as I did (Aug '07). It seems as though your Korean is coming along well--congrats! I'm jealous of your living close enough to an academy that teaches Korean to attend classes. There is one university in Daegu that would let me take classes, but only in the morning when I'm working. So I do a Saturday class at the Y and study on my own. I learn more Korean at taekwondo and swing dance club than in class... :-(

열심히 공부하자! 와이팅!
Jan. 31st, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Just found your blog...
There are times when I try to find new, interesting people on LiveJournal, but I've also gotten into a lot of internet arguments with the users here. (One of my favorites was during the Olympics, when a girl started complaining about how poorly the American announcers were pronouncing Chinese names and how they should be replaced with Japanese announcers -- because Japanese people always sound cute when they pronounce Western names. When I pointed out that it was poor pronunciation no matter who was doing it her reply was to say no, it's a proven fact that 'Asians' always sound cute when they speak English. How can you argue with logic like that? End of extremely long parenthetical statement.)

I wish I had found my academy sooner. Like your situation in Daegu, most of the classes were offered at a time when I had to be at work or required a commute that would make me late. When I asked my director for help his advice was that I needed to find a Korean girlfriend instead, as that would be much easier and cheaper than an academy. However, I think I may be the only male English teacher in the country without a girlfriend. =D

감사합니다! 당신도! 아마 Facebook에서 우리는 한국어로 얘기할 거예?
Aug. 28th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
a difference between charye and jesa
charye is for all ancestors and is held twice a year: on New Year's day (some people on the Jan. 1st but more people on Lunar New Year's Day) and is held in the morning usually around 7-8 AM (rarely after 9 AM). Jesa is for the father or mother of the family who passed away and is held at night (usually 11 PM)of a day before he or she died.

Not many foreigners would have experienced these events as these are strictly family's sacred ceremonial events, so nobody other than the family or relatives are invited, especially on Jesa day.

Most Protestants and Catholics do not hold these events, as they are taught by the church not to do, because when the Christianity religion was introduced, the missionaries thought that this is the Korean's religion and they were bowing to the dead men and thought its their god. For Christians there is only one God. I believe this is a total misunderstanding. Our ancestors are not our God. Jesa would originate from Confucianism but Confucianism is not a religion. It is rather a philosophy. My parents are christians so we did not hold jesa or charye. I experienced these after I got married. My parents-in-law had no religion they never thought Charye or Jesa is a religious event, but is an obligatory thing for children to show their respect to their parents and ancestors. I belonged to the christian family but I did not care to bowing to the in-law's ancestor. In some family, there are Christians and they don't bow at this event. Some parents go crazy and have them not to attend, but some accepts.. ... jesa and Charye should be hosted and held by the eldest son, and if there is no son in the family, the cousin may come over to do it in some strict families. In my wife's family who have no son at all, on charye event, I, the eldest son-in-law hold the charyes twice a year. But there are some times just daughters do it.. What the heck... It is better hold the event than do nothing.. In strict and stringent families, wives could not attent the ceremony even on Jesa (for her died husband).. Yes.. this is strictly the Man oriented events. This is why in old days, it was regarded a sin not having a son in a family. These days young generations do not know much about these events. These charye and Jesa, as far as I know, are not popular in China, the home of Confucianism, as it was banned by Mao. Some similar events are also done in Japan.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )