Korean Ancestor Ceremony for the New Year
Ancestral Ceremony – Jesa(제사) or Charye(차례).
Jesa(제사) is an ancestral ceremony. We pray on Seollal(설날, New Year’s Day on January 1 of the Chinese lunar calendar), Chuseok(추석, harvest festival on August 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar) and on the anniversary of the death for our ancestors. Seollal and Chuseok’s ceremony Jesa is also called Charye(차례).
At Seollal and Chuseok we do the ceremony in the morning, but at the Anniversary of the death of our ancestors in the evening or at night.
Then why do we pray for our ancestors? Because we’re from Confucianism were influenced. One focus of Confucianism is the filial Piety. One must be grateful to and honor one’s parents and ancestors. (Confucianism came from China, but after the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) no such traditional ceremony there anymore, only in Korea).
For this reason we drive the day before from Seollal and Chuseok to our Home town, where the parents or grandparents live. There is always a lot of congestion and the train and bus tickets are sold out well in advance. Some say the “Korean migration” is also a part of it.
The day before we then prepare everything for the ceremony. The most important Food is a rice cake soup for Seollal and a rice cake with sesame filling for Chuseok.
At the Seollal and Chuseok we pull in the morning the traditional Korean Dress Hanbok(한복) and prepare the dining table before. Normally Koreans like to eat spicy food and garlic, but for the ceremonial meal may not be used chili or garlic, because the spirits of the ancestors hate the red color and garlic.
There is also a separate rule about which food has to be where at the table, but it’s very complicated, so my father looks it up in a book and… then orders the food.
When everything’s ready, we’ll open the front door a bit while we do the ritual so that the spirits of the ancestors come into the house and can eat.
After that we do a traditional bow(절) to the ground twice, normally we only do such a bow on special occasions for our parents or grandparents, and then only once, but for the ancestral spirits we do it twice.
When the ceremony is ready, we’ll begin the meal after the spirits have already eaten their fill.
Do all Koreans do the ancestor ceremony?
The answer is “NO”. Why?
Of course, most Koreans do this ritual, but some do it don’t. Then we must talk about the Korean religion, which is so is so complicated that I’ll talk about it later. Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism are the main religions in Korea, and it is there are many other religions, including Muslims. Since Buddhism anyway is an eastern religion, it’s not a problem for the ancestor ceremony, but Catholicism and Protestantism are Western religions. The Catholics took over the Korean culture to prepare food for our ancestors, but instead of bowing, they pray.
However, some Protestants and Muslims reject it because it is Idolatry is. A friend who grew up in a Protestant family… may not know about this ancestor ceremony at all.
On Seollal, we do Sebae(세배) after the ceremony and before breakfast. Sebae(세배) is a Korean New Year greeting. We bow to our parents and grandparents and welcome the new year. ,,새해 복 많이 받으세요. Get good luck in the new year.” Then we get the New Year’s money Sebaetdon(세뱃돈) like Christmas money.
After breakfast with the New Year’s meal Tteokguk(떡국) we go to our relatives to greet them and to pick up the New Year’s money Sebaetdon(세뱃돈).