Chuseok is one of the most important holidays in the Korean culture. It’s one of two holidays in which families travel to their ancestral cities to celebrate together. While it’s sometimes referred to as Korean Thanksgiving in comparison to the U.S. Thanksgiving, there’s really much more to Chuseok than just a harvest festival.
Chuseok is a time to give thanks for the harvest but also a time pay respects to your ancestors. Lots of food is prepared, and the family dresses in hanbok. Families put out food on a table to honor ancestors, often accompanied by a photo of the older family member, and pay their respects with bows. And in Korea, they may visit the gravesites of ancestors and clean up around them, performing the ritual of charye at the family’s ancestoral graves. Once the family has paid its respects to the ancestors, the feast is on.
Chuseok falls according to the lunar calendar, usually sometime between mid-September and early October on the solar calendar. This year it’s Sept. 22; while the holiday falls on Sept. 12, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012. In Korea the day before Chuseok and the day after Chuseok are also national holidays, allowing everyone to travel to their ancestral homes.
The one food that is most closely associated with Chuseok is songpyeon, which I highlighted on Sunday. The favorite foods of ancestors might also be included on the table, as well as fish, rice, soup, jap chae, and fruit.
Traditionally games and various activities were also a part of the Chuseok celebration. Games included archery, seesawing for the girls, tug of war, and wrestling. You can find out more about traditional Chuseok celebrations at the Korea Tourism site page on Chuseok, which you’ll find here:
Here’s how our family usually celebrates Chuseok:
• We have a Korean meal. For us it’s usually san jok (Korean kebobs), mandu, other side dishes, rice, and ho bak jun (zucchini pancake). As I said in an earlier post, I’m the only one in my family that likes songpyeon so we do Rice Krispy treats cut into the shape of half-moons.
• We put a framed photo of my great-grandfather on the table and talk about how he helped shape our family. Whichever ancestor you choose to highlight, you could talk about what has been passed down from that generation to your children? What have your ancestors given you that you’re most thankful for? We also talk about our favorite memories of grandparents and other older family members.
• We read books about Chuseok. A couple of good ones are Sori’s Harvest Moon Festival by Lee, Uk-bae, or In the Moonlight Mist by Daniel Son Souci.
• We play yut nori. You can find this game at your local Korean market or make your own. This game was featured earlier this month on Sept. 9.
• Or, if you’d like some more game ideas, I’ll share some new ideas I’ve recently stumbled on. You can check out this blog post done by a Canadian woman who was teaching in South Korea. These ideas take some traditional Korean games and give them a twist so even your little guys and gals can play. http://silveroses69.blogspot.com/2006/09/chusok-activities.html
However you decide to celebrate, we hope you have a great Chuseok!