Chong Kang

The Tradition Of Jesa


Jesa, a Korean traditional ceremony performed by the eldest son to honor his ancestors. The ritual is observed on the anniversary of the ancestor's death is referred to as gijesa. Charye are memorials celebrated during Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, and Chusok, the Harvest Moon Festival.

The ceremonies present a jesa table with pageantry of traditional dishes: soups, fish, vegetables, fruits, rice cakes and rice wine thoughtfully chosen, prepared, and placed in a proper ritual order. Behind the table hangs jibong, a calligraphy of the deceased names with prayers and greetings. From the eldest to the youngest male family member, all pay respect with bows.

The ritual ends with all the male members taking two final bows together sending the spirits on their way. The jibong is set on fire and the table is quickly cleared. The entire family comes together to share the feast, feeling once again blessed with good fortunes to come. This moment is known as umbok. This was true with our family living in the United States. We didn't celebrate any holidays growing up, except for jesa, which was always revered and honored. It was our parents' bond to Korea and ours as well.

On our father's first anniversary of his death our mother called to say, "Buy some special sweets for your father." Without any second thoughts nor any hesitations, we all set up a sacred place in our homes for our father's spirit to visit us that evening.