Today is ‘Seotdal Geumeum’ in Korea, according to the traditional agrarian calendar. The day prior to the Lunar New Year, this is the final day in the Year of the Tiger — and tomorrow we welcome the Rabbit.
Customs in Korea on this day (and thus, on Jeju Island where I reside) include a thorough cleaning of the home, celebratory foods, and staying up all night with all doors open — presumably, windows as well — to welcome in the ancestral spirits.
Ancestors in all cultures are revered in one way or another. In many, the idea of unnamed ‘ghosts’ is frightening, and no one likes the idea of dead bodies. But our ancestors are another matter.
Often derisively termed ‘ancestor worship’ by those in Europe and North America, the form of ancestor remembrance found in Asian countries is unique. The term ‘worship’ is in error. But the honoring of ancestors, and placating of their spirits so that they have a happy afterlife, is a common theme.
And why not?
Those in the ‘western’ world, who also remember their dead in various ways, could benefit from the idea of a ritual on anniversary dates — birth, death, holidays — to formally acknowledge those who have gone before.
Even more, a deeply felt sense of the lineage from which we emerged, and the ancestors who are watching over us — whether conceptualized literally or metaphorically — would provide us with a sense of ‘eldering’ and rootedness as deep and long as time itself.
And so, on this day, I too prepare to welcome my ancestors — to cleanse myself and my abode in readiness and to throw wide open the doors and windows to my heart and mind, in order to welcome a very long line of elders, in order to commune with them and carry their presence with me.
I for one could use some ‘eldering’. So too, perhaps, the world at large.
And in this age of ‘disconnect’…a deeply felt sense of connectedness makes my heart sing. In this transient and fast-paced global civilization, it provides me with a sense of place.