Koreans opt for more simpler food offerings during Chuseok

Piper Lee, Sept. 12, 2019, 10:10 a.m.


The new austerity is spreading to the traditionally lavish ancestral food offering for Chuseok.

Some families prepared up to 20 or 30 different dishes for the ceremonial table, but the rising cost of ingredients have made that forbiddingly expensive, and since it was traditionally the women of the family who did all the work, that has also become more difficult because many of them are now gainfully employed.

Another factor is that the traditional extended family is fast disappearing, so the communal aspect has vanished as well. In fact family discord often mars the holidays when they should be a convivial harvest celebrations.

A survey in 2018 of 1,234 married men and women showed that 44 percent experienced family discord over Chuseok. Some 34.1 percent also cited food preparation and labor as the biggest source of stress.

But how to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater? The survey showed that 37.2 percent favor a simpler offering. Photos of stripped-down tables have popped up on social media featuring only those dishes the deceased used to enjoy or offerings set up on overseas holidays using local products.

One housewife said what matters is sincerity rather than ostentatious display. Kim Mi-young at the Advanced Center for Korean Studies said, "A rising number of one or two-person households naturally leads to an increasing preference for smaller ancestral offerings. If younger people favor simpler offerings due to different tastes, then the ancestral rites can easily be simplified."

As long as family members retain respect for their ancestors, it does not matter what types of food are offered.

The minimalist trend is not restricted to ancestral tables but to family gatherings as well. The survey showed that 33.5 percent prefer to spend Chuseok quietly among themselves, while 33.5 percent want to spend it only with immediate family rather than distant relatives. Only 14 percent remain fond of large family gatherings with sumptuous food.

Ju Young-ae at Sungshin Women's University said, "We need to respect the views of individuals rather than forcing everyone to conform to blood ties."

It remains to be seen how fast the minimalist trend will spread in Korean society, which is still steeped in Confucian traditions and enamored of conspicuous consumption.

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