1.021 Jesa Spread

-Cycle 1, Dinner 21-
26 January 2010

Jesa Spread

* * *

by my mother

at my parents' home

-Bundang (Seongnam), GyeongGi-

A common tradition in Korea is the jesa (제사), a ritual with shamanistic origins paying homage to one's ancestors. Usually conducted at home on the day of a particular ancestor's death or on certain major holidays to honor them all in one sitting, it involves laying out a variety of food and drink, burning incense, bowing. In the strictest interpretation, the ritual invites the actual spirit of the ancestor(s) to come and partake of the offerings; some people even leave the front door open, you know, because spirits can't get in otherwise. Many protestant families have forsaken the jesa as being contrary to Christian beliefs in the afterlife, but I would venture that most take it as a symbolic gesture and an excuse to get the family together.

My family does this 5 times a year: once each for my dearly departed grandparents on either side, and once on chuseok (추석), the Korean equivalent of thanksgiving. Because my mother's side is Catholic, so we do a compromise version consisting of a mini Mass celebration (my uncle is a priest) and prayers--no incense, no bowing, and the door is kept shut. My paternal grandparents were Won Buddhists, so the ritual is allowed to be more traditional. In fact, after my grandfather had passed, my then-still-living grandmother had insisted that two bowls of rice should be offered, one for him and one for his late first wife, just in case she turned out to be a spirit of the vengeful variety. Now that my grandmother has also passed, we lay out three bowls of rice, just in case.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a shot of the full spread this evening.

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