Sunday, February 14, 2010

Seolnal: Lunar New Year's Day

On the morning of Seolnal, Lunar New Year Day, Koreans are to wash with pure water, a form of absolution and symbolic cleansing from last year's happenings, and then to don new clothes [most preferably the traditional hanbok] which is also symbolic of starting anew. Even in modern-day Korea with its Western influences, Koreans are still tied to their folk traditions of giving honor to their ancestors in the form of ancestral rites, charye. Only men do the deep bow, saebae, before the ancestors' memorial tablet as only men are linked by blood to the ancestors. Their wives serve the food and men, before they do the bow, arrange the food according to colors: white food in the east and red food in the west. [Paying such careful attention to food arrangement is only of importance when honoring the dead.]

Once the ancestors up to the fourth generation have been honored and bowed to three times, gije, [sije, honoring the ancestors 5 generations removed and upward is rare nowadays], then all descendants (the women by marriage are included this time) descend upon the food and enjoy the food that has been 'blessed' by the ancestors.

The typical new year food is ddeokguk or rice-cake soup [pictured left in lower right corner]. This is served following the charye ceremony and all members of the household turn one year older after eating the soup. This aging process is based on a cultural concept of collectivism rather than individualism, that of every individual celebrating his or her own birth day. With the traditional Korean aging method, when a child is born, he or she is one year of age at birth as from conception his or her development process began. [A side note to this is that Koreans also regard the womb period to be 10 months in duration instead of what Westerners consider to be 9.] Confusingly, a child born a few days before Seolnal would be considered to be one at time of birth and two at Seolnal.

This year I was invited to my Korean friend's house for the good luck meal of ddeokguk. The food was various with several meat dishes reflecting the honor of the ancestors performed earlier [which unfortunately I was not invited to observe]. The red meat had been on the western side of the table and the fish, virtually always complete with eyeballs and innards, had been on the eastern side of the table. Other dishes had been arranged between according to the judgment of the eldest son before the three-generation male-members of the household did head-to-floor saebae to their ancestors.

No comments:

Post a Comment