Over time, more people are enjoying the holiday season aside from traditional activities such as ancestral tributes and paying respects at family graves. In 2020, due to the measures against COVID-19, an order to refrain from visiting relatives and traveling will be imposed, which will inevitably result in a different experience of Chuseok from before. In the COVID-19, there is a wealth of new ways that celebrate the holidays, such as finishing the grave mowing before Chuseok or conducting online grave visits and ceremonies. Let’s talk about Chuseok in Jeju.
On Chuseok, which falls on August 15 of the lunar calendar, Koreans hold ancestral memorials and visit family graves. Although it varies by region and family, food was prepared with fresh produce harvested in the fall and served at the ritual. Rice and alcohol made with new crops and songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cakes) are the staples. Before and after Chuseok, Koreans would tidy up their ancestors’ graves and pay respects there. How is Chuseok celebrated in Jeju, which has a different climate and customs from those of the mainland?
In Jeju, Chuseok is called “Parwol (August) Maengjil.” The preparation for Parwol Maengil in August starts from the first day of lunar August. Around this time, all of the relatives participate in mowing the grass at their ancestral gravesite. This is called “modum beolcho (group mowing).” Jeju people tend to observe this practice at this time more so than on Chuseok. Until the early 2000s, so-called “beolcho breaks” were given for students and schools were temporarily closed. There is the perspective that you are unfilial if you do not perform rites and care for ancestors, and also because there are so many tombs that are cared by relatives, not direct family members, due to the massacres of the 4.3 incident.
On the 15th, Jeju islanders take turns going around the homes of close gwendang (relatives). In Jeju City, a rite called munjeonje is held to the munjeonsin, the spirit in charge of the family, before paying respects to their ancestors. Although the order of the ritual is not special, it originates from the folk beliefs of Jeju rather than the Confucian tradition. Jeju’s ritual is characterized by the diverse ingredients and rich culinary culture from the abundant yields of the Halla Mountain and the sea. The ritual table features indigenous dishes made of fresh ingredients and simple recipes, including gonbap (white rice), okdom soup, bingddeok, jeon, namul, fruit, rice cakes, bread, and alcohol.
Gaeng, which is soup made of okdom (tile fish), is the most devoted item at the ritual. Okdom and seaweed are boiled lightly and served warm. It may also be cooked with other white fish such as rockfish, or beef instead of okdom. But since okdom is considered a precious fish, Jeju islanders always prepare okdom in advance. It is up to the woman to cook the okdom soup for the ritual, and the man to grill the fish. Okdom used for the ritual was divided equally among the family members. Also, dishes made of buckwheat, including bingddeok and memil jeobaegi (sujebgi), are also served. Bingddeok, a kind of rice cake, is made by kneading a buckwheat flour dough with adding radish and other toppings, then pan-fried in oil. This is another essential item that can’t be missed at Jeju ceremonies and feasts.
As for the jeon (pancakes), the ingredients include fish, meat, and namul (vegetable sprouts). Some of the notable local ingredients are yangae (kind of ginger) and pork innards. Yangae is eaten as kimchi, pickles, or added in doenjang soup. For rituals, it is blanched and skewered into jeok. Bukbugi, a Jeju word for (pork) lungs, is thinly sliced, smothered in buckwheat flour and eggs, then pan-fried. Various other pancakes such as gosarijeon (bracken sprout pancake) and memiljeon (buckwheat pancakes) are also served at the ritual.
Unlike the mainland’s ritual where apples, pears, and jujubes are offered, indigenous fruits from Jeju, such as tangerines, Hallabong, and Cheonhyehyang are offered in Jeju. Perhaps the most unique items are rice cakes and bread. Glutinous rice dough is shaped into rounds, pan-fried in oil, then sprinkled with sugar to make gireumddeok (rice cakes in oil). Songpyeon, and sponge cakes may also be served. When the rice was difficult to cultivate, sangaeddeok (barley rice cakes) was served instead of the general white rice cake. Later, it was replaced by sponge cake or roll cakes with the advancement in baking techniques.
Other Maengjil customs include sports competitions held in various areas of Jeju, and folk games such as yut-nori, wrestling, and tug-of-war. In Seogwipo, women played Ganggang Suwollae (holding hands and dancing in a circle), and men played knee fights with one another. At Gashinamul Village in Yeongpyeong-dong, they wove and wore traditional Korean clothing especially for Chuseok. They would also predict the prospects of next year’s harvests, and if it rained on Chuseok, and it was believed that barley farming was not going to be successful.
Chuseok in Jeju is increasingly becoming simplified. With the change in the funeral culture, such as cremation and the formation of family gravesites, the beolcho custom is also transforming little by little. Rather than gathering relatives to do group mowing, more and more people pay for beolcho services. Changes are also happening at each household for the rituals, as people are also offering the favorite food of the deceased in their lifetime, like tropical fruits such as mango, banana, and pineapples that are now cultivated in Jeju following climate change. What will Parwol Mengjil look like in the years to come?
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