[Hallyupedia] Seongmyo (성묘)

나확진/인턴 이효윤 / 2021-09-04 07:00:29
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Lee Hyo Yoon

[ENG] visiting ancestral graves to check for any problems and take care of the place

▲ This photo, taken on Feb. 5 2019, shows a family performing an ancestral rite in front their ancestors' grave.



Seongmyo (省墓) is a conjunction of the Chinese characters, seong (省) and myo(墓) meaning ‘taking a look at something’ and ‘grave or tomb,’ respectively. So, the term’s literal definition is to take a look at one’s late parent’s or ancestoral’ graves. Generally it means to visit the ancestors’ graveyard to trim the grasses around and on the tomb and check for inconveniences during seasons such as Chuseok or ‘Hansik.’ (寒食; which is also known as the Cold Food Festival held around April 5th on Solar calendar.)

After seongmyo, the participants usually perform ancestral rites by bowing to their ancestors’ sprits. Seongmyo can be seen as a combination of cleaning up the ancestral graves and showing respect to the tomb owners.

Traditionally, looking after the tombs where the bodies of our ancestors are buried was considered as important as the ancestral rites of bowing to their spirits.

According to “Goryeosa,” seongmyo took place during dubbed ‘Gijae,’ an ancestral rite performed on the day the ancestor passed away or during dubbed ‘Sashijae,’ a seasonal ancestral rite.

‘Dongguksesigi,’ issued during the Joseon Dynasty, also said that people usually check in for their ancestors’ graves on Hansik and Chuseok and even the servants and the poor visited their late parents’ graves.



▲ This photo, taken on April. 5 2020, shows a family visiting the graves for seongmyo in Hyundai Park, Chilgok-gun, North Gyeongsang Province. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 한식인 5일 오전 경북 칠곡군 현대공원 묘지에서 마스크를 쓴 아이들이 부모와 함께 묘비 앞에 놓인 조화를 만지고 있다

◇ Differ depending on era and region… Chuseok, a nationwide seongmyo

When to do seongmyo differ depending on era and region.

Traditionally, the Giho region (Mid-west region) showed strong preference to perform seongyo on Korean New Year or Chuseok, but Youngnam region (south-east region) only did it at Hansik, according to the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture by the National Folk Museum of Korea.

But, after the 1980s, when the population started concentrating on the cities, Chuseok became a national day for seongmyo as it began to carry another meaning; presenting the ancestors first with the harvest of the year. Every year, roads near the mountains where the graveyards were gathered could be seen full of cars with families all setting out for seonmyo after finishing ancestral rites in the morning on Chuseok. From a month before Chuseok seongmyo, the whole country begins ‘beolcho’ (for more explanation of the word you can refer to Hallyupedia ‘Beolcho’).

Of course, there are houses performing Hansik seongmyo according to the old customs. At Hansik, the families fix the damages caused on the tomb such as mending the holes made during the winter and spring and plant grasses on hallow spots.

Many don’t visit the graves on Korean New Year but depending on regions some have to go for seongmyo on that occasion which is called ‘haetsebae’ (translated). 



▲ This photo, taken on July. 4 2017, shows the road filled with cars near Ulasn Memorial Park in Nam-gu, Ulsaon. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

◇ Due to COVID-19 spread, online memorial recommended

The government has been discouraging seongmyos during the Chuseok holidays from last year and for this year as well, as social distancing became an important part amid the spread of the COVID-19 infection. The local governments are not only issuing announcements discouraging seongmyos but are limiting the number of seongmyo-participants in parks as well. The Seoul City has announced closing of all interior establishments in the funeral facilities during this year’s Chuseok holidays.

Instead, the government is strongly recommending online memorials for the late. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea provides an online seongmyo service that enables the families to open a memorial hall on dubbed ‘eSky funeral information system’ (sky.15774129.go.kr). The Seoul City officials are also providing with an online memorial service on ‘Seoul Seunghwa Center’ (translated) website (www.sisul.or.kr/memorial/).


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