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TheSauce

Celebrating Chuseok in Korea

Celebrating Chuseok in Korea

Chuseok (추석), or “Autumn Eve,” is a harvest moon festival that is celebrated sometime between September and October—more specifically, on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar (on a full moon). One of two major holidays where the whole family gathers, Chuseok is a lot like Thanksgiving: relatives catch up with one another, eat lots of delicious foods, and play traditional games. It’s ultimately a celebration of bountiful harvest and a time to deliciously feast with your family, hoping that the next year will be even better than the last. And yes, like Thanksgiving, relatives will most definitely pry into everyone’s lives, especially the youngsters, which is equally as tedious and intrusive as our family-gathering holiday here!

Going Home


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Like Thanksgiving, because Chuseok is a national holiday where families gather together, most people are given a three-day break. Since transportation and lodging tickets are usually sold out three months in advance, this also means that everyone scrambles to book tickets as early as they can. However, nothing is worse than the absolutely horrendous traffic on the actual holiday. Every year, there is a mass exodus of people leaving the cities they reside and work in to go to their ancestral hometowns, located in smaller towns or the countryside. So a trip that may normally take 2-3 hours extends to almost 5-8 hours!   

Traditional Foods


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Because of all the piles and piles of food that the feast and services require, preparation is usually done the day before and it takes the entire day. Like Thanksgiving, most places like banks, post offices, schools, and grocery stores are closed on this national holiday, which means all ingredients must be bought ahead of time. One day is dedicated to buying all the ingredients needed for Charye (ancestral memorial ritual), while another is dedicated to preparing and making the time-consuming and labor-intensive traditional dishes. But all of the slaving away in the kitchen is worth it for all the delicious foods that come out! Some common foods prepared are assortments of jeon (Korean pancakes), japchae (glass noodles), bulgogi (meat dish), fresh meats, soups, rice, fruits, veggies, and rice cakes (songpyeon). Fruits are also popular gifts, especially Korean pears. Korean pears—round, sweet, crispy, juicy fruits—are perfectly ripe during the Chuseok season and are even called the golden pear because its price skyrockets during the holiday. Here are some Chuseok recipes for you to try at home!

Songpyeon


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Songpyeon, traditional half-moon rice cakes filled with an assortment of stuffings, is a staple when it comes to Chuseok. Chuseok falls on a full moon and when Songpyeon is made, before stuffing the rice cakes, the shape resembles a full moon. Once it’s been stuffed with all sorts of ingredients ranging from sesame seeds, brown sugar, honey, black and red beans, cinnamon, pine nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and jujube, it’s folded into a half-moon shape and then steamed over a layer of pine needles. This gives it that aromatic aroma and taste, but it’s a laborious, time-consuming process. The most common songpyeon stuffing is honey and sesame seeds. Some families attempt to make this at home, but most end up buying them from marts, rice cake shops, and department stores. If you’d like to take on the challenge, here’s a recipe!

Charye (Ancestral Memorial Ceremony)


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One of two crucial traditions on Chuseok, Charye is an ancestral memorial ritual usually held early in the morning on the Chuseok day. It’s a formal event, so many Koreans wear their best attire during this event. Usually, all family members sport Hanboks, or colorful, traditional Korean garb. Decked out with proper attire and decking the offering tables with beautifully arranged foods (prepared the day before), the entire family gathers in the home to honor their ancestors. It’s a time to recognize and respect the efforts of our ancestors who continue to protect their descendants and give us bountiful harvest. This rite presents special foods and drinks, arranged in specific ways, as offering and also features full bowing to convey deep gratitude and respect. This extends to our living elders as well, wishing them healthy and prosperous lives.

Seongmyo and Beolcho (Ancestral Grave Visit and Tidying)


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After Charye, Seongmyo (ancestral grave worship) and Beolcho (tidying graves) usually take place.  The entire family moves from the house to their ancestral graves or mounds and offer foods and drinks to their ancestors but a much simpler version than Charye. At the same time, Beolcho, or the tidying up of the graves by removing weeds and cutting the grass, takes place. Both Beolcho and Seongmyo are considered important familial duties and signs of respect and devotion. After all of this is over, families gather back at the home to have a big feast where all sorts of dishes are prepared, including the ones used in Charye. To end the night, family members gather together in order to bond and catch up with one another and play games. 

Folk Games and Activities


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A variety of traditional games and activities are played during the Chuseok holiday. One typical activity includes people in the village dressing as cows and going house to house with a nongak band playing music. Other common folk games and activities are archery and judarigi (tug-of-war). Ssireum, Korean wrestling, is the most popular sport during Chuseok. Two players, while holding onto each other’s satba (red or blue band), wrestle until one of the players’ upper bodies touches the ground. Because of its popularity, contests are commonly held during Chuseok. Another staple Chuseok activity is Ganggangsullae, or a traditional folk dance, where women wearing hanbok (traditional dress) gather in a big circle and hold hands and sing a song while going around in a circle, all under the full moon.  Finally, sossaum (bull-fighting) is also a popular activity during Chuseok, especially in Cheongdo city. It’s much less macabre than western-style bullfighting since the objective focuses more on how well-trained the bull is rather than the fight itself. If you’d like a glimpse into what Ganggangsullae looks like, here’s a  video!

Wish Upon The Moon


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Fun fact! Did you know that in the past, Koreans used to go to a high vantage point and look upon the full moon to predict next year’s harvest? It was said that if the moon light is more red, then not much rainfall was to be expected. If whiter, then too much rain. However, if the moon light were a yellow, brown-ish shade, then the harvest and rainfall would be absolutely perfect. On the other hand, if the color was too light in color, then the harvest would be really devastating and horrible. Today, it’s said that if you look upon the full moon on Chuseok and make a wish, then it will come true. Many wish that the next year will be better than the last and wish for their family’s welfare and happiness as well. So next time Chuseok comes around, try wishing upon the full moon!

 

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