Charye is a Korean tradition that is followed during chuseok. It is when food is prepared by the females of the house and then offered to the ancestors by the males. It is a ritual that symbolizes a good harvest and paying respect to ancestors for looking after them. Charye begins with each member cleaning themselves and putting on traditional Korean clothing or Hanbok. The food preparation takes place throughout the day because of the number of dishes to be prepared and then served in front of an altar dedicated to the ancestors. The food prepared on Chuseok is of many different varieties and has a way of the food table setup.
Difference between Charye and Jesa
Many people get confused between charye and jesa; even though both these are memorial rituals, they have different intentions. Korean Jesa is a feast prepared on the food table set up to offer to the ancestors on their death anniversaries. Charye on the other hand is a part of a worship ritual. It is a feast prepared on Chuseok to offer to generations of ancestors and thank them for a good harvest.
The Screen and the Table
The screen or the shinwi is always placed in the north. In Korea, ancestors are buried in the north direction, hence, Koreans never place their bed in the north nor sleep with their head in the north direction. The table is then placed in front of the screen facing to the south. Once these are set, you can proceed to place all the dishes and food on the table.
The placement of the fruits and desserts is always in the first row in front of the person sitting to the south of the table, opposite the screen. While placing the fruits and desserts both, their colours are to be taken into account. Red fruits need to be placed in the east while the white ones need to be placed in the west. The same goes for desserts. The fruits placed can be apples, jujubes, Korean pears, dates, persimmons, and chestnuts. The Korean table setting is quite strict and needs to be followed thoroughly.
Here again, keeping the Korean table setting in mind, the red foods need to be placed in the east and the white foods in the west direction. This suggests that red meats need to be placed in the east. While serving fish it is to be kept in mind that it is a whole fish then its head should face the east and its tail should face the west. The number of fish and meat is placed depends on the region. It has been observed that in the coastal regions, the number of fish on the table is more than the amount of meat. Pajeon, Yukjeon and Sojeon are also included in the food table setup.
In this food table set up, the third row essentially consists of soups and rice. The rice should be served in the bowl looking like a mountain and the soup should be served in bowls according to the number of ancestors being honoured. Here, the rice bowl should be in the west while the soup bowl must be next to the rice bowl in the east direction.
After a discussion with the family members, another small table is set in front of the altar to put the Cheongu on. Along with this a bowl filled with sand to hold the incense sticks to use during the ritual is also necessary.
Apart from the dishes mentioned above, banchan including kimchi, seasoned vegetables, sikhye, soy sauce and a sweet drink are also served. When the food table setup is taking place, the above-mentioned points have to be kept in mind to do that ritual in the right way.