Death anniversary rite
A Confucian rite performed in memory of ancestors at the earliest possible hour on their death anniversary.
Gijesa is a term referring to a Confucian memorial rite held to honor the ancestors at the earliest hour on the anniversary of their death with food offerings prepared the day before. Koreans have maintained this tradition to remember and honor their ancestors on this day. The ceremony was traditionally held at jasi (Kor. 자시, Chin. 子時, the hour of the rat, between 23:30 to 00:30) when a new day starts. There were two reasons for holding the rite at this time. First, the memorial rite was held at the earliest possible hour on the day of death to show that honoring the ancestors took priority over everything else. Second, this was deemed to be a quiet hour in the middle of the night that the ancestors would favor most for their visit to this world. However, the rapid growth of the urban population following industrialization made it increasingly difficult to hold gijesa while living in the city, resulting in the tendency of performing the rite on the evening of the death anniversary.
Gijesa is typically held in the wooden-floored hall in the case of the head family of the clan or the main bedroom for ordinary families. Wealthy families with an illustrious history may build a special ritual hall in their homes, but it is normally reserved for rites held for ancestors whose spirit tablets are enshrined in perpetuity (bulcheonwi). Ordinary gijesa are held in the wooden-floored hall.
As the hour of the rat approaches, the descendants prepare themselves to arrange food offerings and write prayers to be recited during the ceremony. Today, however, more and more families tend to omit the reciting of prayers. Families with no shrine of their own and hence no ancestral tablets prepare paper spirit tablets well before the start of the ceremony. Ritual officiants and the main participants of gijesa consist of the direct descendants of the ancestors to be honored and close relatives sharing the same family name.
According to the concept of gagarye, the details of the ancestral rites can vary from one family to the next. Gijesa also varies according to family in time, procedure and types and amount of food offerings. Today, it tends to be difficult for family members living in urban areas, as it often forces them to endure complex procedures and a long and difficult journey home to the countryside. Despite these troubles, the gijesa tradition is still maintained in the great majority of families, likely because they still feel it important to have an opportunity to pay their respects to their ancestors.
Gijesa has been the foundation of all Confucian rites and ceremonies, playing an important role for descendants to pay homage to their ancestors and strengthen bonds between family members and relatives. As a Confucian rite for the dead, holding gijesa is also an expression of the Confucian virtue of filial piety. It is performed according to the principle of sadaebongsa (Kor. 사대봉사, Chin. 四代奉祀, conducting memorial rites for the four latest generations of ancestors), providing descendants an opportunity to express their respects to the ancestors they had been acquainted with before their death.