Good Tteokguk (rice cake soup), bugeopo (dried pollack), jeon (Korean pancake), fruit and drinks. Only these five dishes occupy a memorial service table for famous South Korea scholar Lee Hwang during the Joseon Dynasty on Lunar New Year's Day. "We pay delicate care to his table for a ritual on Lunar New Year's Day. However we make it as simple as possible,” according to the eldest grandson among the 17th-generation descendants of Lee Hwang's head family. How his descendants set the table reflects Lee's teachings. It is a well-known historical fact that Lee advised his descendants not to prepare foods that require labor and cost for his memorial table when he died.
"Jujagarye,” or a guidebook of traditional Confucian ritualism, writes that people set up a simple table to say thanks to their ancestors on Lunar New Year's Day. It advises that a service table on Lunar New Year's Day only has a cup of drink, a cup of tea and a plate of fruit on it; and descendants offer a drink just once without having a written prayer reading session.
Historical experts recommend that we should not obsess over formalities but consider our own situations and affordability when a memorial service table is set for traditional holidays. They point out that we do not need to make a table full of the excesses of foods as we are not supposed to have a private meeting of five people or above due to the nation's COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
Kim Dong-mok, the chief of Sunggyungwan Academy's committee on traditional rituals, emphasized that what matters more is sincerity than formalities. "You do not need to grill Korean beef kebab with labor for a ritual,” said Mr. Kim. “If you insist that you love a chunk of grilled pork belly, it is okay to go ahead to put it on the table instead of traditional beef kebab.”
Be sure to prepare only a bowl of rice cake soup, a plate of meat dish and dessert fruit for a memorial service table on Lunar New Year's Day morning. Forget a bottle of high-end traditional liquor. Korean rice wine or a glass of water is just fine enough to express a sense of gratitude toward your ancestors. "If you prepare light foods that you can enjoy for breakfast, you may feel less burdened in many ways,” said Mr. Kim. "You do not want to force on your ancestors a bunch of heavy foods which are not even on your favorite list.”
The Korean Studies Institute recommended setting a memorial service table without any frills on Lunar New Year's Day. "The table used to start with a simple set of foods. Since material affluence increased over time, people have added more dishes to make things complex. As people are not allowed to have a large-sized family gathering during this year's holidays, I hope that it will turn around so that the service table can go back to the old days,” according to the institute.