Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Celebrating The Lunar new Year

Korean Adventure (March 7, 2003 Chautauqua)

Since I have been living and working in Korea, I have been able to celebrate the new year twice. On January 1st, I welcomed 2003, and on February 1st, I welcomed the year of the goat.
There are twelve different animals assigned to various years, including the rat, the dragon, and the cow. I was born in 1959, the year of the pig. According to my horoscope, I will be more of a homebody this year. So, no change.
Our calendar, the Gregorian, is used throughout Asia, but there are still those who rely on a lunar calendar to calculate the best time to celebrate ancient rites, such as the lunar new year.
The Gregorian calendar ignores the moon and adds leap days to recalculate the solar year. The lunar calendar, like the Islamic calendar, ignores the sun. The lunisolar calendar, exemplified by Chinese and Jewish calendars, adds leap months every three years. It can make you dizzy trying to keep them straight.
One of the main parts of the Korean tradition is something they call "jesa," which is a ritual performed in homes asking the residing spirit for blessings.
An altar table is set, and then the head of the household lights incense, pours liquor into a glass, and then into a bowl. He then bows twice to the ancestral spirit. His family follows suit, and the head reads the "chuk mun," or ritual address.
This is done three times, and a small amount of food is eaten to signify acceptance of the ancestors' symbolic blessing.
Some Christians have denounced it as a form of worship that they cannot condone. They also object to the drinking of liquor, as well as the increasingly popular tradition of visiting a fortune teller.
Such talk would have certainly brought down severe punishment in the 19th century, when over 300 believers lost their lives. Christianity has become close to a religious majority nowadays, and churches can be found on every street corner.
The struggle between the old (Confucianism) and the new (Christianity) can be very divisive of families, and compromises are having to be made. Many people are trying to find their own way of celebrating that will include everyone.
Some people simply say they are honoring their ancestors, and New Years Day is the appropriate occasion. It is part of a break from any orthodox religion and an effort to tailor their own beliefs and practices as they see fit.
Mainly, it seems to me, it is about family. Many Koreans have no religion at all, and don't perform the ceremony, but they do take the time to visit their home towns and pay their respects.
As the country changes and modernizes, some things will no doubt be lost. Maintaining something that is their own, may help a lot of Koreans retain a sense of national identity, and pave the way for better understanding and (one hopes) peace.
I got a lot of the information for this article from the Korea Herald, and a story by staff reporter Andrew Petty.

No comments:

Post a Comment