Ancestral rites held on holidays
An ancestral rite held in the daytime on major holidays or seasonal festive occasions in honor of the four latest generations of ancestors.
Charye (차례, 茶禮) is an ancestral rite held on holidays or certain days that mark the change of seasons. Today, it is not common to observe memorial rites on days that mark the changing of seasons and charye rites held on Seol, or the first day of the first lunar month, and Chuseok (추석, 秋夕), which falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, are the only ones that have survived to date. However, in the head family of a respected clan with a family shrine, ancestral rites are still observed on Jungyang (Kor. 중양, Chin. 重陽, ninth day of the ninth lunar month) and Hansik (Kor. 한식, Chin. 寒食, around April fifth on the Gregorian calendar). Charye, held on holidays, was originally called sokjeoljesa (Kor. 속절제사, Chin. 俗節祭祀, memorial rite held on a customary holiday) and is not a ceremony that is included in texts regarding the rules of propriety. Indeed, no book of rites mentions charye, the ancestral rites held on holidays.
The ancestors honored in charye are identical to those of gijesa (Kor. 기제사, Chin. 忌祭祀, death anniversary rite). For example, a household that practices sadaebongsa (Kor. 사대봉사, Chin. 四代奉祀, conducting memorial rites for the four latest generations of ancestors), holds rites for a total of eight ancestors including great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. In households honoring ancestors up to the two latest generations, memorial rites are held for four ancestral spirits in total, including the parents and grandparents. On the morning of a major holiday, charye is performed by households in Korea with a wooden spirit tablet called sinju (Kor. 신주, Chin. 神主, spirit tablet) or a paper spirit tablet called jibang (지방, 紙榜), or even a portrait of the dead. Like gijesa, in principle charye is also performed at the home of the firstborn son of the eldest son. However, according to the traditions in different regions and families, charye may be observed at the graveside on Hansik and Chuseok. In the past, it was more common for ancestral rites to be held at home on Seol (lunar New Year’s Day) whereas the rites were performed at the graves of ancestors on Hansik and Chuseok. In recent years, however, it has become commonplace to hold memorial rites at home at both Seol and Chuseok. The tradition of visiting ancestral graves at Chuseok is still carried on by a majority of Koreans, whereas the tradition of visiting a family member’s grave at Hansik is losing ground.
The rules for conducting charye are very basic since it is a simplified memorial rite: traditional liquor is offered only once and recitation of a written prayer is omitted; seasonal foods such as tteokguk (rice cake soup, eaten on lunar New Year’s Day), noodles, or rice cake are used as food offerings to the ancestors. The cooked rice and soup are not placed on the ritual table. The arrangement of ritual props and preparation of food are almost identical with those for gijesa (Kor. 기제사, Chin. 忌祭祀, death anniversary rites), sije (시제, 時祭) or myoje (묘제, 墓祭), memorial rites held at an ancestor’s grave. However, in the case of charye, the rite is performed for all the four latest generations of ancestors, which calls for enough space to place multiple spirit tablets and food offerings. As a result, four sets of chairs and tables are needed. If such space is not available, separate memorial services for all the generations of ancestors can be performed one by one, beginning with the oldest generation.
As charye is held in the morning, lighting candles is not necessary. The table setting for charye is almost identical to that of gijesa. However, there are some exceptions. First, all grilled meat such as beef, fish, or chicken (jeok, 적, 炙) is placed on a single plate and set on the table in advance. This is because the liquor offering occurs only once. According to propriety, at the memorial rite on lunar New Year’s Day, a bowl of tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is set in place of cooked rice and soup, whereas the spaces for cooked rice and soup are kept vacant during charye held on Hansik and Chuseok holidays. But in recent times cooked rice and soup are often placed on the ritual table. Seasonal foods are prepared for Chuseok, including soup made with taros, beef, kelp, and songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cakes); whereas for Hansik, pan-fried sweet rice cakes with flower petals and rice cake with mugwort are given as offerings.