Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day. Chuseok is very different from the American Thanksgiving in that it includes a ritualistic ceremony for one's ancestors. So, this being my first Korean Chuseok, I made a number of cultural faux pas that I tried to pass off with nonchalance and grace only to shroud myself in the cloak of idiocy.

The ceremony is called "charae" and to properly offer food to the ancestors, one must arrange the food in proper order and put chopsticks on the food so they can "try" that dish. Then, we prostrate ourselves in front of the pictures of the deceased twice and do a half bow. We rearrange the chopsticks so they can "try" other dishes and each time we change the chopsticks, we prostrate ourselves again in the same manner. Since there are a lot of dishes on the table, we do a lot of prostrating.

I think there are 3 ways to prostrate oneself for various occasions. I didn't know which one to do so I just picked the simplest one and kept going. And of course, it was the wrong one but nobody corrected me. I was also supposed to cover my feet with socks or footsies but no one told me, so went in barefoot. I felt a bit irritated but I think they were trying to accommodate my "foreignness." It felt very strange to receive the treatment of a foreigner even among my relatives.

The whole event was an interesting experience but it also made me realize how much there is to learn about the Korean culture and how everything is related to eastern philosophy and the indigenous psyche of the Korean people. But that's a whole new entry.



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