Chuseok (추석) is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea. Family members from near and far come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors. In 2015, Chuseok Day falls on September 27. Also, the substitute holiday applies to the Chuseok holiday this year on September 29 as an extra day off, making a 4-day holiday from September 26 to September 27.
Many Koreans will visit their family homes to spend quality time together, and the holidays provide a good opportunity to enjoy traditional cultural experiences throughout Korea. Let’s take a closer look at the traditional Korean holiday of Chuseok.
Chuseok is one of Korea’s three major holidays, along with Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Dano (the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar year) and is also referred to as Hangawi (한가위). Han means “big” and gawi means “the ides of August or autumn” (August 15th according to the lunar calendar is when the full harvest moon appears).
On morning of the day of Chuseok, family members gather at their homes to hold memorial services (called Charye, 차례) in honor of their ancestors. Formal Charye services are held twice a year: during Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Chuseok. The difference between the two services is that during Seollal the major representative food is tteokguk, a rice cake soup, while during Chuseok the major representative foods are freshly harvested rice, alcohol and songpyeon (rice cakes). After the service, family members sit down together at the table to enjoy delicious food.
Visiting ancestral graves during Chuseok is known as Seongmyo (성묘). During this visit, family members remove the weeds that have grown around the graves in the summer season, a practice which is called Beolcho (벌초). This custom is considered a duty and expression of devotion and respect for one’s family. 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 familial duties. The graves are then visited again during Chuseok.
During the match, two competitors face each other in the middle of a circular sandpit and try to pin their opponent using their strength and skills, running through a one on one tournament. The last wrestler left standing after a series of competitions is considered the winner and is named the village’s strongest man, taking home cotton, rice, or a calf as his prize.
In this dance, women dressed in Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) join hands in a circle and sing together on a night when the full harvest moon appears or on Chuseok. There are several stories about its origin. One of the most well-known story says that the dance dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) when the Korean army used to dress the young women of the village in military uniforms and had them circle the mountains to look like that the Korean military was greater in number than it actually was from the enemy side. The Korean army enjoyed many victories thanks to this scare tactic.
Bim refers to adorning oneself with new clothes for holidays or parties. Broadly speaking, there are two bims: seolbim and chuseokbim. In the past, people adorned themselves with Korean traditional dress, hanbok, but people currently purchase new western clothes or do not prepare bim at all.
Songpyeon (송편) is one of the quintessential dishes for Chuseok. This rice cake is prepared with rice powder that is kneaded into a size that is a little smaller than a golf ball, and then filled with sesame seed, beans, red beans, chestnuts, or other nutritious ingredients. When steaming the songpyeon, the rice cakes are layered with pine needles to add the delightful fragrance of pine. On the eve of Chuseok, the entire family gathers together to make songpyeon. An old Korean anecdote says that the person who makes beautifully-shaped songpyeon will meet a good spouse or give birth to a beautiful baby. It is no wonder that all the single members of a family try their best to make the most beautiful songpyeon!
Another major element of Chuseok is traditional liquor. On Chuseok, families and relatives gather together and hold a memorial service for their ancestors with liquor made of the newly harvest rice. After the memorial service, they sit together and spend some time together as a family, drinking the liquor and eating food.
During Chuseok, many cultural sites including the ancient palaces in Seoul, the Korean Folk Village, and Namsangol Hanok Village host special holiday events for visitors. This year, the Korean Folk Village will host folk games and traditional performances from September 12 to 29 and the Namsangol Hanok Village likewise on September 27 and 28. Deoksugung Palace as well as Jongmyo Shrine will also be holding special Chuseok holiday programs, and during the Chuseok holidays, the palaces including Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon [UNESCO World Heritage] and Changgyeonggung Palace, along with the shrine and the Joseon Royal Tombs will offer free admission to visitors wearing a hanbok.
If you are looking to delve even deeper into the meaning of Chuseok, visit the Korean Folk Village to experience their special holiday programs. Reenactment of Chuseok customs and ancestral rites, making of songpyeon and catching performances such as nongak (farmers’ music), tight-rope walking, and martial arts on horseback will be offered.
|Korean Folk Village||Namsangol Hanok Village|
|Deoksugung Palace||National Folk Museum of Korea|
|The National Museum of Korea||Jongmyo Shrine|
During the holiday season, make sure to double-check the operation hours of your desired destinations, since most places of business are closed at some point during the Chuseok holidays. Folk event venues listed above and many major tourist attractions are open all year-round. For more Chuseok holiday information, please check the following links.
* This column was last updated in September 2015, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official websites before visiting.
<Last updated on September 24, 2015>