For our family, the morning of February 19, 2015 has actually started few days before.  The preparation for Lunar New Year takes great deal of time and energy.  The house needed to be fresh and clean for the guests and so many kinds of food needed to be made for traditional Lunar New Year meal.  Because my mother is suffering from a cold I took charge for the first time and coordinated everything that needed to be done for greeting another new year.

In Korea, Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays and many families celebrate the day in traditional way.  Relatives gather at home of the eldest son and commemorate the ancestors through a ritual called charae (차례: a traditional Korean ceremony where you prepare the foods for ancestors and bow to show gratitude).   Because my father is the eldest of six, my aunts and uncle’s family came to Daejeon all the way from Seoul to celebrate the new year with us.

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Our family’s Lunar New Year charae-sang

I remember that our charae-sang (차례상: table setting for charae) used to be a lot more formal when I was younger.  We used plates called bangjja (방짜: handmade brass tableware) that included authentic incense burner and kettle made specially for charae.  As years go by, many people choose to be more flexible with the traditions and as a result such rites become more simple and free to accommodate modern lifestyle.  For example, apple pies don’t normally end up on a charae-sang but as a chef of the day I demanded that my pie should be presented to the ancestors (I’m sure they enjoyed it) 🙂

The foods on the charae-sang is for the ancestors and their names written in Chinese characters are placed in the middle.  We bowed for three different couples: my great-great grandparents, great grandparents, and grandparents who passed away when I was little.  After we are done with the jeol (절: to bow down on your knees with both hands folded on the floor and your forehead on a back of your hand) we finally get to share the foods.  Including ddeok-guk (떡국: rice cake soup) that is a must on a new year’s day, traditional foods such as jeon (전: pancakes), sanjeok (산적: seasoned beef), fish and wild herbs are shared with the family.

My aunts brought their special dishes as well so this year we had a table full of delicious foods more than enough for everyone.  We packed some takeouts as the relatives headed back to Seoul.  I earned some extra cash for doing sebae (세배: traditional way of wishing happy new year to the elders – you normally receive cash in return) so this day was indeed a very productive Seollal after all!