The New Korean Manners Guide, The Dong-A Ilbo’s anniversary special reporting series which concluded recently with Episode 30, drew wide attention from readers. There was one comment that drew extraordinary attention among the many comments made by readers. One comment suggested “My father never drank alcohol and instead enjoyed coffee very much when he was alive, and told us to ‘only place coffee and banana on the ancestral rite table for him, but we could not do that because we were wary of others’ critical eyes. I wish to do that in the upcoming ancestral rite for him.”
The ancestral rite had only been conducted on the anniversary day of the ancestor’s passing, but ancestral rites started to be conducted on traditional holidays during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea. It is said that prestigious families such as Confucius scholar Toegye Lee Hwang’s try to sincerely hold an ancestral rite on the day of passing, and do not conduct such a rite on traditional holidays. If ancestral rites on holiday add extra burden to the trouble of holding the ancestral rite on the day of passing to weigh on surviving families, it would be better not to.
In rural society where families of the same last name live together in the past, families were able to gather on the date of passing to hold an ancestral rite. In the wake of industrialization and urbanization, families who are scattered across the country are only able to meet on traditional holidays, which are national holidays. If we consider ancestral rites not as an event held to simply take a deep bow to ancestors, and instead regard them as a process to strengthen family ties by sharing foods for the ancestral rite, ancestral rites on holidays would be effectively considered to be more meaningful, as more decedents of the family can gather together on these holidays. However, a survey suggested that the activity most hated by daughters-in-law among different activities done on holidays is to sit on the floor for long hours to make Korean pancakes used in ancestral rites at the home of their husbands’ parents. If people find it stressful, which is totally unnecessary, in the course of preparing foods for ancestral rites, it would be a more righteous thing to do for family members to order fried chicken to share, rather than preparing foods, and enjoy holidays in harmony.
The scene of women who are working hard to cook foods while men are just watching TV in a family is an outdated practice of discrimination against women, which always happens on traditional Korean holidays. It would be great if a husband and wife can concurrently visit the home of both the husband’s and wife’s parents, but if this is not possible, the reality is that the couple comes to visit the home of the husband’s parents first. Even a feminist woman cannot escape from the linguistic tradition of using honorific titles for her husbands’ younger brothers and sisters. Nothing can be conducted more as formality than traditional manners. How will Koreans be able to harmonize manners that can be easily outmoded with the spirit of our era? This is the task that always remains to be rewritten and updated in the New Manners’ Guide.