The day for Korean Thanksgiving has finally arrived. Chuseok is a time where families gather to enjoy time together and pay homage to their ancestors for the abundant harvest.
There are many activities connected to the celebration of Chuseok. The most important one is the memorial service called Charye (차례) a form of Jesa (제사) It is one of the ancient memorial rites that have been done for a thousand years in Korea.
On the morning of the actual Chuseok, family members gather for Charye in honor of their ancestors. Koreans believe that when someone dies, their spirit remains and protects their descendants so they honor their ancestors by preparing lots of food.
Charye is set up at the home of the eldest son’s house. The family prepares a variety of foods such as wine, soup, meat, vegetables, different kinds of fruits, and Seongpyeon. Unlike usual feasts where we just fill the table with a lot of food, there is proper placement of food on a Charye table.
Charye table setting can depend on different regions and family traditions. Below is the basic table set-up of the ritual.
- A screen should be set up on the north side and the ritual table will be placed in front of it, facing the living.
- An ancestral tablet with the name of the ancestors is placed on the north side of the table and two candles on each side.
- The foods are arranged in specific directions. Rice and soup are placed on the North and on the opposite side (the South) fruits and vegetables are placed. Meanwhile, meat dishes are served on the west and in the middle. On the east, rice cake and some drinks such as soju and makgeolli are placed. This food arrangement is taken seriously and is learned by the men in the family.
When the table is set in place, the memorial service can start with the eldest son bowing twice and followed by the rest of the attendees of the ceremony in a certain order. Then ancestors are offered liquor and burning incense by the male heirs of the family.
The actual ritual ends with the burning of the ancestors’ names with the incense this is done to free the spirits. Once it is done, the food used for Charye is eaten by family members and shared with relatives and neighbors.