Monday, 26 January 2009

Another New Year

Next to Chuseok the Lunar New Year seems to be the most important event on the Korean calendar.

From the little bit that I know, the only difference between the two festivals is the date and something small like the number of times you bow to your elders. Other than that everything is supposedly the same. I think I have to ask my adult students if this is true. What I do know for a fact it that when you bow to your elders their give you envelopes with money inside. I was joking saying that I want to do that. I was told that I was welcome to do it and get money. Somehow I think the student was quite serious.

A big difference in the Korean celebrations is that it is quite boring. I am saying this from a visitor’s point of view, of course. There are no parades, parties or fireworks. Just huge meals offered to the ancestors. Of course, the ancestors never take the food, to the living end up eating it all.

I was planning on going up Seolbong Mountain early in the morning to take a photo of the first sunrise, but I was unable to fall asleep last night and by the time I had to get up I had a headache. I don’t think it is good to go out in cold weather like this when you feel even slightly sick and tired to boot. Nothing seemed to be wrong, so I will try again tomorrow. For those who read the blog, pretend that I actually took the photo today. For the rest of the world I will just have to tell a little white lie.

Update: I was mostly lazy to do a proper write up on what I would have been able to find with a little research, but here is a bit of interesting reading from Samedi. First the basics, and then a bit on the table layout and also a mention of Christians partaking in this celebration.

3 comments:

samedi said...

The ancestor memorial services are a little different between Chuseok and New Year's Day, but I'd say that 세배 (bowing and receiving money from elders) and eating 떡국 (rice cake soup) are the main features that set apart the two holidays.

I studied anthropology at uni though, so maybe I'm more likely to look for the differences? Hope you're enjoying the holiday!

Otto Silver said...

Oh, OK. At least I know more now. I will still ask them students and see if there is anything else to be found.

Still, don't you find it strange that you have mostly the same celebration for things that are seemingly not related?

Maybe next year I should go to Hong Kong or some place like that. I have never seen a celebration on that scale.

samedi said...

Praying to one's ancestors for good fortune on both Chuseok and New Year's Day never struck me as being that repetitive, but I never spent much time thinking about it. I always figured that Chuseok is the Korean version of China's mid-autumn harvest - very important for an agricultural society - and Seollal falls in the dead of winter when agriculturalists are stuck living off whatever surplus they accumulated during the past summer's harvest.

When combined with Confucianism (yeah, that term does get thrown around a lot here) and the idea of balanced relationships, ancestor memorial services make sense. Obedient subjects are rewarded by the king, obedient children are rewarded by their parents, and obedient descendants are (hopefully) rewarded by their ancestors with good luck. Giving a part of the crop to one's ancestors could be like offering a tithe in return for good favor for the following harvest.

I can also see how Shamanism might play a role. Many nomadic cultures include a belief in animal and mountain spirits, so maybe when early Koreans removed nature to make way for farms they shifted to ancestral spirits as that would be easier for a sedentary society.

I'll .... uhh, stop here though before I put you to sleep.

I'd considered going to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year but kept putting it off for so long that tickets grew too expensive for what I wanted to spend. Maybe next year, right?

p.s. I'm going to add a link to your blog on my site.