Ancestral grave mounds can often be seen when traveling around Korea, from the large meticulously maintained royal tombs to the small ones spotted on hillsides in the distance. Even if you see an overgrown tomb it is highly unlikely that it is not cared for at least a couple of times a year and particularly before the major holidays of Lunar New Year and Chuseok.
Beolcho is the name for the traditional weeding, pruning, grass cutting, and general maintenance needed to keep each tomb in good shape and to honor those that are buried there. Families come together sometime before the holiday to work on making the ancestral grave mounds look well cared for in preparation for the ancestral rights and the family’s paying of their respects to their ancestors.
With Chuseok happening soon, people all around Korean are preparing for Chuseok and the custom of Beolcho will be occurring all around the nation. (Some families will pay a company to cut the grass etc, while yet others will do it in the morning before the ceremonies, however, an old saying castigates those people by saying “those who Beolcho late are not rightful descendants.”)
In 2019 the Chuseok holiday is from the 12th to the 14th of September.
However back in 2017 the Chuseok holiday period lasted 10 days because of when it fell on the calendar. Sept. 30th was a Saturday, and Oct. 1st a Sunday, the 2nd was a government holiday. the 3rd, 4th, and 5th were Chuseok, the 6th National Foundation Day, then the 7th and 8th were the weekend and finally Monday 9th was Hangul Day. This meant many more Koreans than usual were able to visit their families and some were even planning to go on a real vacation.
Chuseok is somewhat like a cross between the American Thanksgiving holiday and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. It, and other holidays, hold great cultural significance to most Koreans and even if there have been slight changes from past practices it is still one of the most important times of the year, and a great deal of preparation goes into it, not least is the custom of Beolcho.
Have a great day everyone.
All photos credits to original owners. Photos 1 & 2 Elle Marzec, all others to Yonhap News Agency.
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