Korean Chuseok Table Setting, from food to ‘fat’ in 7 steps

Korean Chuseok Table Setting

Chuseok is a traditional Korean holiday celebrated on the last day of fall. It’s an important time for families to get together to honor their ancestors and share their gratitude. This is why preparing a Chuseok table is so important.

It’s not just a single bowl of food, but a series of dishes that are carefully prepared to honor and give thanks to ancestors. The foods that go on the table include songpyeon, herbs, roast (red meat), kimchi, and fruits. You can also add your family’s favorite foods to create a hearty meal.

Korean Chuseok Table Setting

Korean Chuseok table setting and meaning

Chuseok is a time to gather during the bountiful fall harvest to honor ancestors and give thanks for the bounty of nature. It’s also a time for families to come together, and it’s an opportunity to strengthen family bonds and communicate. The Chuseok table setting is one of the important elements that symbolically captures this meaning.

The traditional Chuseok table is centered around a shinwi. The shinwi represents the ancestral home, which is located to the north. This is referred to as the “east, west, and north of etiquette,” and from the perspective of the ritualist (Jeju, 祭主), the right side of the shinwi represents the east and the left side represents the west. This arrangement is meant to honor and respect ancestors.

Preparing the Chuseok table

Preparing the Chuseok table is a process steeped in tradition and meaning. The following steps are required to prepare the table setting:

Select food: Consider the basic foods for Chuseok: songpyeon, herbs, roasted (red) meat, kimchi, and fruit. You can also choose a variety of foods based on your family’s tastes.
Purchase ingredients: Buy fresh, high-quality ingredients. Select and prepare your ingredients at the grocery store or market.
Set the table: Prepare bowls, plates, bowls, etc. for each dish. Arrange the table with the deity as the centerpiece and place the food in order.
Bowing ceremony: Family members join hands and bow together. This is a ritual to honor ancestors and share gratitude.
Food sharing: After a period of time, the family will share the food together. Mingle together and feel the spirit of Chuseok.

Preparing a Chuseok table is a valuable experience that strengthens family bonds and keeps traditions alive.

Standardizing holiday table settings and changing trends

There is a standardization direction issued by the Sungkyunkwan Rituals Establishment Committee on how to prepare a holiday table for Chuseok. We also conducted a national survey to understand what people think about holiday table settings these days, and based on the results, we have prepared the following.

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How and what to serve at Chuseok

The way you set the table to honor your ancestors during Chuseok varies from region to region and family to family, but the overall layout is similar to a festival.

Typically, five rows of food are prepared from west to east, following this basic layout. In the fifth row, called jojunghwashi and hongdongbaekseo, place dates, chestnuts, pears, persimmons, apples, and Korean sweets; in the fourth row, called jupo woohye and sookseosaengdong, place pho, herbs, soy sauce, nabak kimchi, and sikhye; in the third row, called eo dong yukseo,

place yuktang, sotang, and fishtang; and in the second row, called dongdu seomi and jonggyeogeojung, place yukjeon, yukjeon, sotjeon, fishjeon, and fishjeon. Finally, the first row is called left and right, and it contains rice, cups, soup, sisigyeon, rice, cups, soup, and side dishes.

There are nine basic foods on the Chuseok table: songpyeon, namul, grilled (red) meat, kimchi, fruits (four types), and alcohol.
You can also add other foods as needed, such as meat, fish, and rice cakes.
You can also use a picture of the food to represent the ritual.
Fruits can be placed at your convenience.
Deep-fried or earthquake foods are not required to be included in your turn.
You may choose to perform a graveside service after the turn, or you may choose to perform a turn after the graveside service. This is a family discussion to decide.
Honoring your ancestors is the most important thing, and more food may not always be better.

Changing Chuseok foods and trends

In recent years, more families have been favoring home parties, whether due to the rising cost of Chuseok or a change in generational perceptions.
After the pandemic, there is a growing trend of traveling or going out after a simple ceremony and graveside service.
Before Chuseok, purchases of party-related products such as tea pots, party supplies, rice cakes, and cheese sticks increase, while sales of holiday food and tableware tend to decrease.
Sales of traditional Korean holiday foods, such as hanwa, yuwa, and confectionery, are also on the decline.

As you can see, there is a trend toward standardization and a shift in holiday table settings. These changes suggest that families celebrate the Chuseok in different ways.

Time and order of festivities

Traditionally, rituals were held in the first dawn (just after 0:00 a.m.) of the day of the ancestor’s death. However, in modern times, due to the difficulty of family members attending, rituals are usually held in the evening of the day of the death. In addition, it is common for rituals to be held in the morning on holidays.

The order of the rituals

Gangshin: Jeju begins by burning incense. Everyone bows twice.
Chamshin: Everyone bows twice.
Choheon: Jeju pours the drink, Jeju passes the cup over the incense three times and hands it to the butler. The butler raises the cup, and Jeju bows twice.
Dokchuk: Jeju reads a benediction, and everyone listens without bowing.
Ahon: The second toast, performed by the Lord’s wife or someone close to him.
Jongheon: The third bow is made by someone close to the deceased.
Yusik: Jeju and the head of the household bow twice while sharing drinks and food.
Hapmun: Go out the door for the ritual and wait for a while.
Offerings: After the soup and sungnyeon are prepared and everyone waits, Jeju makes the hunda (reading).
Sasin: Pick up Sungnyeon’s cutlery and end the ceremony.

How to celebrate

Every family has a different way of celebrating the festival.

Some families set out the food for the ritual in advance and proceed in order, while others may prepare cold food and serve hot food later. The timing of opening the rice bowl may also vary, as may the sake, and the procedure for women.

It’s best to ask an elder in your family for advice on how to do this, as it will depend on your family’s customs and traditions. We’ve outlined some alternative ways to do this, but we encourage you to follow your family’s customs.

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Food preparation and order

Jemme (飯): A small bowl of white rice is placed in the main bowl.
Gang (羹) or Metang (飯湯): Clearly simmered beef, radish, and kelp are served in a gangi or tangi.
Samtang (三湯): Prepare meat soup, bean soup, and fish soup, with beef, radish, chicken, pufferfish, kelp, and tofu as the main ingredients, respectively.
Samgyuk (三炙): Yuk-yeok is beef or pork cut into large pieces, seasoned, skewered, and grilled. For bongjik, the neck and feet of a chicken are prepared and grilled, and for eojik, fish is salted and grilled.
Soybean paste: Stirring vigorously, seismic tofu until golden brown, served separately.
Flavoring (香炙): Skewer green onions, Chinese cabbage kimchi, bellflower, kelp, etc. and layer them in the oil.
Kannap (肝納): White fish made with whole fish oil and served after the earthquake.
Po (脯): Typically prepared with pufferfish, with the tip of the mouth and tail cut off and raised.
Hae (醢): The rice grains of sake are removed and served on a raised plate with slices of jujube on top.
Sookchae (熟菜): Boil bellflower (white), fern or bracken (brown), and spinach (blue) and arrange them in a tricolor arrangement.
Chimchae (沈菜): Served with nabak kimchi and no red pepper.
Pyeon (餠 (bottle)): Prepare mepyeon and charpyeon, and place funny rice cakes such as gyeongdan, hwajeon, and juak on top.
Fruit: Place dates, chestnuts, persimmons, pears, and seasonal fruits in this order. Arrange the berries in groups of 3, 5, and 7.

The preparation and ordering of these ritual foods is an important part of decorating a Chuseok table that honors the ritual of honoring ancestors. It allows families to express gratitude and respect for the deceased, and makes the holiday truly meaningful.

Emphasizing the importance of preparing for Chuseok

Preparing the table is a process that honors the meaning of Chuseok and the precious time spent with family. Proper food selection, placement, and etiquette means family harmony and cultural transmission. A properly prepared Chuseok brings joy and excitement to the entire family and plays an important role in keeping the tradition alive.

The difference between traditional and home parties

The difference between a traditional dinner party and a home party is in the food selection and presentation.

With a strong emphasis on etiquette and tradition, traditional foods such as songpyeon, herbs, and grilled dishes take center stage, and there are strict rules for food placement and order. Home parties, on the other hand, showcase a variety of foods and incorporate modern elements to create a unique experience.

How to make a fat and what it means

The “fat” is an important piece of paper used in Chuseok turnover ceremonies to honor ancestors, and is written in the following ways

Size: 6 cm wide and 22 cm long is about right.
Paper: Use hanji (white paper).

How to write

Orientation: The senior (father) is written on the left, and the non-senior (mother) on the right. If only one person has passed away, write in the center.
Relationship: List the relationship between the deceased and the person performing the ritual (Jeju) first.
Deceased information: Write the position and name of the deceased in order.
Last: Finish by writing “Shinwi” at the end.

Meaning and significance

‘Fat’ plays an important role in rituals honoring ancestors. The meaning is that the family honors the deceased by writing down the relationship between the deceased and the family, as well as the position and name of the deceased. By doing so, they express their family ties and gratitude, and proceed with the rituals of Chuseok.

The Many Faces of Writing “Fat

Hyun (顯): Used as the first letter of fat as a sign of respect, but not for subordinates.
Go (考): Refers to a deceased father, and is the title of the lowest tier of ancestors.
Bi (妣): Refers to the deceased mother, and is the lowest ranking female title.
Jogo/Jobi: Used for grandfathers/grandmothers, with titles for great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers as you move up the hierarchy.
Student: If you don’t have a specific title, you can write the name of your title if you held one. It can also be used as a substitute for student.
Sujae (秀才) and Suhsu (秀士): Indicates a person who died under the age of 18.
Father (府君): Used for someone who is above you; use your own name for someone below you.
Yuin (孺人): Used for women, it is written after the main family name. Yoo-in was the equivalent of class 9 in the Joseon Dynasty’s foreign name book.
Student Bugunshinwi: This is when the person has never held a public office at the level of a clerk (grade 5) or higher. If the person has held a public office, it can be used in the form of ‘(position name) Bugunshinwi’.

The importance of writing ‘fat’ The ‘fat’ is an important element in Chuseok rituals to honor the deceased and show respect.

Accurately writing the relationship, name, and title of the deceased plays an important role in expressing respect and courtesy during the rituals. This conveys family ties and gratitude, and makes Chuseok truly meaningful.

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Preparing a Chuseok table is an important part of family bonding and gratitude.

You can honor your ancestors and share joy with traditional rituals and foods, or you can celebrate the holiday in a way that reflects modern changes and home party trends. Whichever way you choose, it’s important to make the most of the meaning of the holiday and the precious time spent with your family. By truly understanding and preparing for the rituals of Chuseok, you can create a meaningful time to honor your ancestors and strengthen family bonds.