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Society Celebrations in Korea

Seshi, as days of festivity, act as a stimulus in life and accelerate the rhythm of the yearly life cycle so as to help one move on to the next cycle.

Seshi customs are based on the lunar calendar.  The sun was not believed to show any seasonal characteristics; the moon, on the other hand, was believed to show these seasonal characteristics well through its wane and unity with the passage of time.  As a result, it was easy to observe and appropriately evaluate the seasonal changes based on its changes.  The expression "seshi customs" refers to ceremonial acts that are customarily repeated during the year.

During the First Moon, New Year's Day - the biggest holiday of the year - and the 15th day were celebrated.  On New Year's Day, Koreans enshrine their ancestral tablet and hold a ch'arye.  A ch'arye is the holding of an ancestor-memorial service on festive days, with food and wine offered in sacrifice to the ancestral tablet.

Ordinarily ancestor memorial services were held for ancestors up to four generations back; for ancestors further back than the fourth generation, ancestor memorial services were held only once a year at their graves.  Songmyo is a visit to the ancestral graves to bow and inform them of the new year.  Songmyo was a custom that was equal to doing sebae for living people; it was an absolutely necessary act of etiquette for descendants.  Upon finishing songmyo, sebae (a formal bow of respect to one's elders) was performed.  Sebae is a younger person's bowing to an older person as the first greeting at the new year.  Sebae is done by kneeling down and bowing politely.

The 15th day of the Eighth Moon is Ch'usok, Thanksgiving Day.  Along with New Year's Day, Ch'usok (also called Harvest Moon Festival) is the biggest holiday in Korea.  With freshly harvested grains and fruits, ancestor memorial services were performed, and visits to one's ancestors' graves were made.  One of the dishes prepared for this day that cannot go unmentioned is songp'yon.  Inside songp'yon freshly harvested sesame, beans, red beans, chestnuts or Chinese dates are stuffed.

Many rites and customs are linked to the passage of the four seasons.  They reinforce the link between nature and humanity, and bring communities together in a sense of shared purpose.  Traditionally the Korean people followed a lunar calendar which conformed closely to the seasons.  The four seasons, distinct in Korea, formed the basis of everyday life in traditional society.  

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