Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chuseok Celebrations

Tuesday afternoon I headed over to halmoni's house for the Chuseok holiday on Wednesday. The weather was really terrible on Tuesday and it took me a while to motiviate myself to get out of the house and over there, but I finally arrived around 6pm. Most of the food had been prepared by the ajumma that takes care of halmoni, but we didn't have anything to do, so we made some 배추전 or battered and fried cabbage. The boyfriend taught me how to make it too so I didn't have to stand around looking like a useless idiot like usual. It didn't look very tasty, but it tasted much better than expected. It's super easy to make. Just mix flour and water and dip the cabbage in and fry it up.

We woke up early the next morning at 7 am. Chuseok celebrations are held early in the morning, so after waking, we started preparing the 제사, or the memorial ceremony for the deceased. As I said, most things were already prepared, but we had to place everything on special dishes used only for the jesa ceremony. We also prepared 산적, a seasoned steak and opened rice liquor used in the ceremony. A paper was inserted into a holder with the name of the ancestor to be worshiped.

Once everything was prepared, it looked like this:

First, the men of the family bowed together for my boyfriend's haraboji (grandfather). Traditionally, only the men attended the jesa ceremony, but nowadays anyone can do it. After the men bowed, halmoni came in and bowed too. The boyfriend's little sister just made jokes about the whole ceremony and never actually joined in. After, a new name was inserted into the holder and my boyfriend bowed alone for his mother who passed away when he was in high school. After the jesa is finished, a small amount of each kind of food is thrown in a bowl of water, the paper with the names of the ancestors are burned and the ashes are left in the water. That water and food mix is then thrown in the garden outside. But, if you don't have a yard, where do you put it?

After the jesa, it was time to eat. Frankly speaking, I was quite dissapointed by the meal. They call this "Korean Thanksgiving" because it is supposed to be a harvest festival, but compared to an American Thanksgiving with a huge turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, amazing desserts, and in my family mountains of appetizers, the Chuseok meal at halmoni's house felt more like any normal meal just with more, equally unappetizing dishes. I'm not a big fan of mushy, vegetables, particularly the fermented ones, so if you add more of those kinds of dishes to the table it doesn't make it more exciting. My meal basically consisted of 호박전 (battered and fried zucchini), 도부전 (battered and fried tofu), cow bone soup (which doesn't taste bad, it just has no flavor) and rice. Not my idea of thanksgiving. I left the table still hungry and snacked on fruit and songpyeon for the rest of the morning. Do Koreans feel the same about American Thanksgiving? I wonder if it's better at other family's houses...

I guess this would be the best time to mention 송편(songpyeon), the special rice cake eaten at Chuseok. These are a little different from the normal rice cakes Koreans eat year round, mainly because they are placed on pine needles It seems as though most families make it themselves, but ours were bought at a store. I was kind of hoping to get to make them since I always hear my students talk about making songpyeong on Chuseok.

A little while later we headed up to the boyfriend's grandfather's grave to have the 묘제 or ceremony at the grave. It was quite simple, they just placed some fruit, songpyeong and dried fish on the altar by the grave and threw some of the rice liquor over the grave. Then they bowed for his grandfather. After that, we cut up the apple and ate that along with the songpyeong and dried fish (I didn't eat the fish though).

The rest of the day was relaxed, just watching TV and eating a relaxed lunch before leaving in the afternoon, sailing home with no traffic, packing and leaving to catch an earlier than planned flight to Jejudo. More on Jeju in the days to come.

1 comment:

  1. After hearing how my students made songpyeons this past Chuseok (and how bad they thought they were), perhaps you were better off with the store bought variety.

    Looking forward to your Jeju recap.