Sunday, February 14, 2010

What a Rice-Cake Soup Can Do For You

Today all of us living in Korea are one year older. It all comes with eating a bowl of rice-cake soup early in the morning of the Lunar New Year; start of the real New Year for Koreans.

After the Harvest Moon Festival (Chusok) the Lunar New Year would be the biggest celebration of the year. A day for the family to remember their ancestors: performing the rites, that go back centuries, and remembering those that have given them life.

Catholics make an effort to cultivate this custom which has been incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass: a form of inculuration at its best. The Church has given its blessing on these rites after many problems with the idea of "ancestor worship" in the past, and considers the ceremonies a meaningful family custom to be encouraged in every way possible--Koreans of today are not the Koreans of 200 years ago.

Today in all the Masses in Korea we have a special Mass for the intentions of the Christians, for their deceased family members, and ancestors. We will have incensing in the Korean manner after the sermon, and a short office for the dead sung in a very distinctive Korean way. We thank God and all those who have died; pray for them and make resolutions to be truer to the calling we have received from God, and not be a disappointment to those who have died.

The Lunar New Year Day is also a new beginning for the Koreans. They bathe, wear new clothes, have the rites for the ancestors, eat white rice-cakes, wish each other blessings, and bow to the elders (saebae).

The 'saebae' is an important part of the 15 days before the full moon of the new year. The bows are a ceremonial that all know how to perform. The men will place their right hand on the the left hand, kneel and place their head on their hands placed flat on the floor in front of them. The women's formal bow is more complicated, they put their left hand on the right hand , place them horizontally in front of their eyes, and taking a sitting position will then move their bodies into a bow. This is the 'saebae' ; after the bow the children are given a gift of money. It is the start of the new year; if they live this day well it will be an auspicious year.

Happy New Year!

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