Official Site of Korea Tourism Org.: Chuseok – Full Moon Harvest Holiday, Korean Version of Thanksgiving Day
Chuseok is one of Korea’s most largely celebrated holidays. It is a time when families and friends gather to share food and enjoy their time together, giving thanks to their ancestors for the year’s bountiful harvests. This year, Korea’s representative traditional holiday of Chuseok falls on September 14th of the solar calendar. It will last three days, from September 13th to September 15th and marks a prime opportunity for foreign visitors to tour Korea’s cities and experience Korea’s culture while all the bustling crowds are away visiting family relatives. Let us look a little deeper in to what Chuseok represents for Koreans.
As one of Korea’s three major holidays, the other two being Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Dano (the 5th of the 5th month of the year according to the lunar calendar), Chuseok is also referred to as Hangawi, which means the very middle of August, or August 15th according to the lunar calendar. As an agrarian society throughout history, Hangawi was the day in which Koreans thanked the ancestors for the year’s harvest and shared their abundance with family and friends. Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, Chuseok can be traced back to a religion related to the moon from ancient times. The sun was considered natural, but the full moon that came once a month to brighten the dark night was seen as a grateful presence. Therefore, festivities took place on the day of the largest full moon, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, and thus became, and is to this day, one of the most important days of celebration.
On the morning of Chuseok Day, Songpyeon (type of Korean rice cake) and food prepared with the year’s fresh harvest are arranged to give thanks to ancestors through Charye (ancestor memorial service). After Charye, families visit their ancestors’ graves and engage in Beolcho, where weeds around the burial grounds are removed. As the night nears, families and friends enjoy the beautiful view of the full harvest moon and play folk games such as Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance).
- Beolcho (removing weeds around the grave) and Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves). Visiting ancestral graves during Chuseok is known as ‘Seongmyo’ and during this visit, family members usually cut the weeds that have grown around the graves in the summer season. Taking care of the ancestral graves such as removing weeds is called ‘Beolcho’. This custom is considered a duty and an expression of devotion. On the weekends, about one month prior to the Chuseok holidays, Korea’s highways become extremely congested with families visiting their ancestral graves to fulfill their ancestral duties.
- Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance)
Mothers and daughters dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) gather around in a circle, holding hands, and sing together. This dance originated from the Joseon Dynasty during the Japanese invasion when the Korean army dressed Korean mothers and daughters in military uniforms and had them circle a mountain peak to make the Japanese think the Korean military was greater in number than it actually was. Through this strategy, the Koreans were eventually able to defeat the Japanese.
Traditionally on Chuseok, the head of the household would buy new clothes for everyone, including the servants. This custom was known as Chuseokbim. Usually, a traditional hanbok is worn, but nowadays newly purchased clothes are not limited to hanbok. Today, families put on a modern type of hanbok called Chuseokbim and hold Charye services, and afterwards, they enjoy their time together.
Chuseok is a time for rich plentiful harvests. Therefore there are many fruits and newly harvested rice with which rice, tteok, and drinks are made from.
Songpyeon is one of the representative snacks of Chuseok. This rice cake is prepared with rice or non-glutinous rice powder that is kneaded into the perfect size, then filled with sesame seeds, beans, red beans, chestnuts, and a host of other nutritious foods. When steaming the songpyeon, the bottom of the rice cakes are layered with pine needles, which fill the rice cakes with their delightful fragrance. On the evening of Chuseok Eve, the entire family gathers together to make songpyeon under the bright moon. There is an old Korean saying that says that the person who makes the most beautiful songpyeon will meet a good-looking spouse. Therefore, the single members of the family try their best to make the nicest looking songpyeon as they laugh out loud in merriment.
→Click here to view how to make Songpyeon
- Alcoholic Beverages
Another major element of Chuseok is the alcoholic beverages. This traditional Chuseok drink is made of newly harvested rice and is also known as “The Hundred Year” Drink. People who look forward to this major holiday are also rich in generosity and like to share their generosity over drinks. Soju, makoli, dongdong-ju, beer domestic and foreign, whiskeys, scotch, all kinds of wines, spirits are consumed in abundance.
Korean War Baby comments:
Chuseok is like American Thanksgiving, Harvest Moon celebrations throughout the world, and Christmas all rolled into one. Children expect to receive envelopes of cash from their elder relatives, gifts of food and drinks are given to employees, friends, relatives. It was common in times past to give common commodities like canned food, soaps, oils, etc. Kind of like reminding people of the past when Korea was rising from the ashes of the Korean War.
Celebrate your Korean culture by visiting sites about Korea. Google “Chusok or Chuseok” and find out more information to learn about this major cultural event that will give you more understanding about the ways of our mother’s and father’s way of life.
In 14 years of living in Korea, even the last four being married to a Korean woman, unfortunately I have never experienced the full joys of Chuseok. Modern times have changed the practices so much. Perhaps only 10-15% wear the traditional clothes and do the elabrate ceremonies. It is a time of families coming together and that is always a good thing.
(Korean War Baby-2 years ago, with colored hair, trying to look younger for my wife)