Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chuseok at the Lee Family Residence

Chuseok -the Harvest Festival

Under the full Harvest moon, Koreans this past week celebrated Chuseok. During this 3-day harvest festival, people in Korea travel back on horrendously clogged roads back to their ancestral hometowns to celebrate with friends and family, as well as pay respect for deceased relatives. In preparation for the festival, traditionally people would visit the graves of relatives, carefully cleaning up the area around the tombs and offer food, drinks, and crops to their deceased ancestors. 

Preparing the feast

One of the teachers, a long-time American resident of Seoul married to a Korean, invited me to to see how song-pyeon, a special treat for the harvest festival, was made. To simplify things this year, the dough, made primarily from finely ground new rice, was purchased instead of being made from scratch. The kneaded dough was rolled into a small ball, representing the full moon. They then were filled with either slightly ground sesame seeds or red beans, now taking the shape of a half-moon. The song-pyeon cakes, placed on top of pine needles, were steamed in a large kettle on the stove, with the slight aroma of pine needles filling the air. As one woman of the Lee family attended to the stove, another woman sat on the floor, expertly rolling a ground beef mixture into perfectly round patties the size of a half-dollar. Another woman dunked the patties into a large bowl of eggs, then into flour, and onto an electric skillet. Along with the patties, slabs of tofu were fried. 
The prepared Jesasang ceremonial table
Rice wine - one cup per family member, along with incense

Charye Ceremony

Early the next morning on the day of Chuseok, both male and female members of the Lee family were already busy preparing the Jesasang, a ceremonial table setting for the celebration. Fruit such as a honeydew, apples, oranges, Korean pears, and local dates had already been neatly placed in the front part of the table setting. Just as I had seen in a display the day before at an ethno village, all fruits that contained a peeling or rind had their tops neatly peeled in a circle. Added to the table were peeled chestnuts, dried and grilled pollock fish, other meats, soup, kimchi, the tofu and ground beef patties, song-pyoung treats, puffed rice snack, and a few other sweets. Each item was carefully arranged in a particular place on the table, according to the traditional rules of the ceremony. For the Lee brothers’ grandparents, a framed paper with the names of the parents (they didn’t have any photos) was prominently placed in the back center of the table. Incense was lit. The ceremony included things such as pouring rice wine three times and offering it to the sprits of the deceased; each time the family members bowed down to pay their respect. Later, the process was repeated for the Lee brothers' parents, and then Mrs. Lee’s parents, with a photo of the parents. For Mrs. Lee, bananas were added to the table, signifying something her parents liked (just as the puffed rice snack was a favorite of Mr. Lee’s mother). 
Performing the pouring and rotation of the wine cup

The Thanksgiving Meal

After the charye ceremony was over, some of the foods were removed and prepared for serving. To my surprise and delight, I was invited to stay and join the Lee family for the meal. Fish replaced the American turkey, and kimchi stood in for stuffing. A sweet rice tea was served after the meal. My first Thanksgiving eaten with metal chopsticks, it was a splendid way to experience some more of Korean culture. Many thanks to the Lees for inviting me!

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