By Kim Sang-wook (USAG-Yongsan)January 21, 2009
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - After the celebration of the New Year on Jan. 1, East Asian cultures are preparing for a different kind of New Year celebration with families Jan. 24-27.
The Korean Lunar New Year is based on cycles of the moon phase. Koreans start a massive movement to the homes of their eldest brother, who is responsible for the family ceremony coordination.
"All of our father-side family members gather up in our house and perform an ancestor memorial service called Charye," said Cpl. Park Ji-min, a Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army Soldier here.
"The four-day period gives us a time to bring holiday spirits for us and share greetings, which give us good luck throughout the year."
"Charye" is a brief family-memorial service to ancestors using designated foods called "charyesang." Traditional liquor is offered in front of the ancestral tablet. Family members bow to the tablet and wish for family prosperity and great luck among the siblings.
Considerable efforts are made when preparing festive dishes for offerings at the Charye. The food on the table is designated by certain rules based on the tradition, but also depends on family's choice.
Food is displayed in five rows on a table. Usually on the back row, drinks and "tteokguk," a broth with oval-shaped slices of white rice cake soup, are placed to the left and right. The fourth row contains hot dishes including meat, vegetable and fish. The middle row has various "jeon," or Korean pancakes containing chopped vegetables, and "jeok," grilled meat. Pieces of "po," or dried slices of fish, are placed on the left side of the second row with other side dishes in the middle. Finally, on the front row, fruits are places by color order: red fruits on the right, white on the left.
After the ceremony, family members bow to their elders saying "Saehae-bok Manee Baduseyo," which means "Happy New Year," in Korean.
This custom is called "Saebae" and children look forward to this time because adults return money or "Saebaetdon," and other types of appreciation for their polite bows.
Like other Asian countries, Korea also has traditional family-fun games. Typical games are "yootnoree," a board game using four sticks as dice, and "Yunnal-leegee," a traditional kite game.
"When I was young, all of our family members gathered around the table and played yootnoree. Laughter was all around during the game and we definitely enjoyed it," said Kim Min-su, U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan. "But these days we focus on family conversation because we can't reach each other as usual like the past."
Families also share a moment of time with the mother's side of the family, either before or after the father's-wide gatherings, to greet and participate in Charye.
During the season, the peninsula's roads are packed with cars and buses, but sometimes the final destination is not always family gatherings.
Some Koreans plan to do something instead of enhancing family relationship these days. Especially this year, the five-day holiday will provide families with more time than any other Lunar New Year holiday.
"Our family is usually busy these days with work going on during the holiday, so we decided to do something different this year," said Sgt. Han Yo-han. "But after the busy times, we are still going to arrange a time to gather. Times change and customs change, but we always appreciate our ancestors and families."