Chuseok 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 2016, Chuseok Day falls on September 15. As the day before and the day after are also part of the holiday, this year's full holiday period will take place for five days September 14 to 18, including the weekend.
Many Koreans visit their hometowns to spend quality time with their family, as well as spend time with friends. The holidays also 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 (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Dano (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month). Chuseok is also referred to as Hangawi (한가위). Han means “big” and gawi means “the ides of the 8th lunar month or autumn.” According to the lunar calendar, the full harvest moon appears on the 15th day of the eight month.
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 knock their opponent off their feet first, using their strength and skills, running through a one-on-one tournament. In the past, the last wrestler left standing after a series of competitions was considered the winner and was named the village's strongest man, taking home cotton, rice, or a calf as his prize. These days, ssireum competitions large and small take place throughout the nation as the holiday approaches; the winners receive premium products or money as a reward.
In this dance, women dressed in Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) join hands in a circle and sing together on the night of the first full moon and 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 give off the appearance 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 type of 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!
One food that cannot be left off the table during holidays and parties is jeon. These Korean pancakes are made by slicing fish, meat and vegetables and then lightly frying them in a batter of flour and eggs. The ingredients used vary from region to region and even by household. The most common jeons eaten throughout the nation are dongtae jeon (pollack pancake), gochu jeon (chili pancake), kkaennip jeon (batter-fried stuffed perilla leaves), sanjeok (meat and vegetable skewers), and yugwanjeon (batter-fried meatballs).
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 and spend some time together as a family, drinking the liquor and eating food.
Recommended Places to Visit for the Chuseok Holidays
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.
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* This column was last updated in August 2016, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.
<Last updated on August 25, 2016>