Monday, September 12, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Pizza on Jesa Table?

This photo is generating an interesting online controversy in Korea.

Yup, you are seeing it correctly -- a jesa table with fruits, traditional snacks, and a cheese pizza.
(source)
 As the Korean covered previously, jesa is a traditional ritual in which the family gets together to commemorate the ancestors. (A jesa held on chuseok and other holidays are called charye [차례].) Jesa follows a strict guideline in all aspects, including what to put on the table and the order in which those items will be arranged.

Needless to say, pizza does not really fall under that guideline -- hence the controversy. Those who favor it tend to argue that it is appropriate as long as the particular ancestor liked pizza, and it would reduce work on the part of the women who have to prepare the food through backbreaking labor. Those who oppose tend to argue that tradition must be respected, and simply ordering a takeout is a poor showing for a ritual that is supposed to honor one's ancestors.

The Korean is not sure if he supports or opposes, but he knows one thing for sure -- this ain't happening in his house.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. Well, as long as the ancestor in question liked pizza, I think it wouldn't be too bad. And people are already ordering Jesa foods anyway (cooking those jeons can be a real bitch, at least from a personal experience). Might as well update the jesa table.

    But who would prefer pizza over the awesome Jesa food?

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  2. I would be gratified if my descendants were to honor me by offering up a jesa pizza, as long as it wasn't deep-dish.

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  3. as a Korean man who watched his mom do all the work for a jesa for my deceased PATERNAL grandfather while my father sat around smoking cigarettes, I believe that there needs to be some reworking of how we do jesa. I think the point of jesa is to reminisce about the ancestor, so I do think that pizza could be tolerated, even encouraged. Hell, after I die, I want my children to put some Carne Asada Fries too

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  4. Every time my family does jesa, we are sure to add something that the deceased really liked in addition to all the traditional stuff. At the most recent one that I went to, there was a plate of Kid-O crackers neatly stacked into a pyramid. Apparently he really liked those. I thought it was strange, but as I grew up in the states and don't really know too much about jesa, I thought it was best to remain respectful rather than drawing attention away from the event to myself having a new cultural experience.

    For those who don't know what Kid-O crackers are...
    http://gd.image-gmkt.com/mi/629/425/405425629.jpg

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  5. Would it be different if the pizza were baked from scratch? What if it were a terrifically complicated dish? Something more "upper-class" than pizza, like snails or steak? An "older" foreign dish, like bouillabaisse?

    I think a portion of my reaction comes from presentation - if it were on a nice jesa platter instead of a cardboard box, for instance.

    Why are the tops of the top fruit on the pyramid cut off, but not the ones farther down?

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  6. I would personally be demanding pizza for my jesa, lol. And fried chicken and donburi and sushi :D

    Also are men not allowed to cook the food? If the women want to cook, that's fine, but I don't think men should be complaining about this if they're not doing the work...

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  7. I'm a bit worried, if not appalled. The food on the Jesa table is set up according to the conventions of the family (or family clan). This set up ought to be preserved and should be handed down from generation to generation.

    This family, whose Jesa table is in the picture, perhaps may be disrespecting its ancestors by violating tradition. They are, however, more surely teaching their children and descendants heteropraxy (errant in practice), which may be possibly and eventually lead to the decay of Jesa ancestral rites and filial piety.

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  8. Well what if that deceased person really liked pizza? Maybe that pizza being up there signifies a fond memory of the deceased or it was requested by them to be put there. People all have their reasons for the things they do. I admit though it could have been put on a pretty platter rather than the cardboard box it comes in.

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  9. If we get to add pizza, then I petition for garlic, onions, and peppers as well! I have often wondered if the Korean ancestors don't become something else (Chinese?) in the afterlife. I've never met a Korean who doesn't like at least one of the banned ingredients above.

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  10. Well, the food on my family's jesa table is quite exotic (and delicious to eat afterward). So, I'd rather not replace something there with cheap pizza.

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  11. "the end of filial piety" is already happening, and it's not because of pizza on the jesa table. It has more to do with only child syndrome. As more and more families have only one child and spoil him or her rotten, the child learns that he/she is the most important thing in the world.

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  12. Really craving Pizza School now.

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  13. ㅋㅋㅋOh my gosh~! Not sure how I feel about this. Sometimes I think Koreans are sacrificing their traditions in the hurry to modernize. But on the other hand...women do have it tough on the holidays!

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  14. leg me start off by saying that i'm a HUGE stickler for tradition and keeping things the way they are when it comes to rituals. but after giving this some thought, i would ask this: what is the ancestor in question never really enjoyed or ate the food that is traditionally prepared for the jesa table? does the ritual remain important without meaning? if it's just following a formula and going through the motions, is it something worth doing at all?

    what if you want to honor an ancestor that only lived in a foreign country and enjoyed foreign food? would you still be laying down the asian fruits and rice cakes and such at their table?

    if all someone wants to do is honor the tradition, then laying a standard jesu table is best. but if you're preparing the table out of ritual and personal remembrance, then maybe a pizza or calzone or sushi or burrito may be called for?

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  15. Oh come on... That's like buying one pie from the store when you have to make ALL of Thanksgiving dinner. I know the holidays are completely different, but that table looks like it took as much effort as Thanksgiving. Is is really that unreasonable to buy something?

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