Migrant housewives learn how to offer "jesa" (ancestral worship ritual) during a recent event organized by the Suwon Migrant Community Service in Gyeonggi Province. / Courtesy of Suwon Migrant Community Service
By Shim Jae-yun
For most Koreans, especially men, Seollal, the Lunar New Year holiday, is a festive season during which they enjoy drinking and dining with their families.
But it is also a period of stress for most housewives who have to prepare food for their families and take part in "jesa" (an ancestral worship ritual) in Korea's male-dominated Confucian society.
These domestic responsibilities and demands are all the more serious for migrant women married to Korean men because they are not at all accustomed to Korea's unique traditional culture.
An increasing number of entities, public and civic, are making efforts to help them learn about the traditional practices and thus settle in here more smoothly.
Media firm Traditional Culture, in association with the Jogye Temple and the Korea Immigration Service, recently invited 20 migrant housewives to an event to provide them with opportunities to experience traditional Korean culture ahead of Seollal, which falls on Feb. 10.
It offers a program designed to teach them the unique ritual procedures of jesa for the holiday season.
"The participants showed keen interest in rituals and attentively listened to the lecture. The migrant housewives are mostly concerned about the upcoming Seollal because they are unfamiliar with the ritual," said Traditional Culture President Choi Jin-young. The firm was awarded by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) for its contribution to globally promoting traditional culture.
Regarding the reason behind the program, Choi emphasized the need to prevent the women from being excluded from family affairs due to their ignorance of traditional Korean culture.
Harmony and peace in families can only be achieved when housewives can take part in family events such as the ritual, according to Choi.
Local governments and civic bodies are joining the campaign.
Uiwang City, Gyeoggi Province, hosted an event to let multiracial families experience traditional games such as "yut-nori" (a game using four sticks), "jegichagi" (kicking a shuttlecock) and "tuho" (stick-throwing) as well as the jesa ritual on Jan. 30 at its multicultural family support center.
Alongside the Korean games, the participants had the chance to enjoy traditional games from their home countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Mongolia.
They also made and shared traditional food, together with "tteokguk" (rice-cake soup).
Cultural differences coupled with a language barrier have been among the most serious problems facing migrant women, leading to divorce and the dissolution of families.
"Some 20 Vietnamese women took part in the event and we were happy to enjoy Vietnamese food and our games as well as Korean ones. We could feel the love and affection we feel in our homelands while learning about Korean culture," said Puti Hoen, who married a Korean man five years ago. She is now serving as a translator for women from Vietnam.
Suwon Migrant Community Service invited 45 migrant wives to a similar event.
"We have been hosting the program since 2008 to help migrant wives learn about aspects of Korean culture such as wearing hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), and preparing food for rituals," a center official said asking not to be identified.
"They seemed to enjoy it and were very satisfied, saying the program was very helpful," she said.