In modern-day Korea, the three most-celebrated holidays are Lunar New Year, Dano, and Chuseok. Also known as 'Hangawi,' Chuseok falls on August 15 according to the lunar calendar and is considered the nation's most important holiday. Although Chuseok itself is a single day, the holiday period includes the day before and after, involving an array of traditional activities. Early on Chuseok morning, the family gathers together to perform traditional ancestral rites. A feast of traditional Korean foods is prepared for the memorial service, after which everyone enjoys the festive meal and exchanges gifts.
During Chuseok, people nationwide leave the city in order to return back to their family's hometown for the holiday (traditionally to visit paternal relatives). With an amazing 75% of the population on the road during this mass exodus, highways and roads throughout the country are extremely congested. Since train and bus tickets are sold out at least a month in advance, careful planning is an absolute must for anyone planning to travel during the holiday period.
Another aspect of the pre-holiday rush is shopping for customary Chuseok gifts. Gift boxes of meat, fish, fruit, spam, tuna, and health food are on display at department stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Others go for the more convenient option of gift certificates, available at various department stores. Needless to say, the nation's postal service and private home delivery services face one of their busiest seasons of the year during the Chuseok holiday.
Some of the traditional customs have been modified in recent times, as some individuals and families are choosing to spend the Chuseok holiday as personal vacation rather than family holiday. Families may order food and conduct a simplified memorial ritual, giving family members more free time during the holiday. Some people use the extra time to travel with families or friends or attend cultural or leisure activities. Also, given the high congestion on roads leading out from the metropolitan area to other regions, an increasing number of parents opt to visit their children in Seoul, in what is known as the "reverse exodus."
Although the way people celebrate Chuseok has changed over time, it still remains as an important holiday for everyone. Keep reading to learn more about the Chuseok scene in modern-day Korea!
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Buying and sending gifts
During the Chuseok holidays, it's customary for Koreans to exchange gifts with families, relatives, friends, and business acquaintances in order express their appreciation. Department stores, supermarkets, traditional markets, and home shopping channels begin offering special Chuseok gift sets and items up to a month before Chuseok. The most popular gift items are assorted cuts of beef, fruits such as apples or pears, and fish products such as dried yellow corvina, tilefish, or anchovies. Other popular gift boxes contain hangwa (traditional Korean cookies), wine, cooking oil, spam or tuna, or daily products like shampoo, soap, or toothpaste.
There are gift sets available to suit every budget that range from basic sets to those including handheld games, electronics, or gourmet salt. Through the advancement of IT technology, mobile gift coupons became popular to send to loved ones on their mobile phones.
Despite all the new trends in gift giving, some of the most favored Chuseok gifts are cash and gift certificates, which allow recipients freedom to choose what they really need. Food items such as health supplements, beef ribs and fruit boxes are also popular.
Because gifts have become an important part of the Chuseok celebration, the post office and private home delivery services enjoy one of the busiest seasons of the year. Many people even find temporary jobs in sales and gift-wrapping during this holiday season. There is no doubt that Chuseok is the most profitable season for the distribution industry.
♠ Tip for travelers
Boxes containing Chuseok gift items are available at department stores, large convenience stores and supermarkets, or traditional markets. If you happen to visit your Korean friends during Chuseok holidays, it's a good idea to present them with a gift to show your love and appreciation. You will be regarded as a person who understands and respects Korean culture.
Booking train tickets
Korean national railroad administration and express bus companies open ticket reservations for Chuseok about one month in advance. Booking seats is so competitive that people say it is like a war. Train seats are harder to get, as people look to avoid the heavy holiday traffic. Train tickets can be booked through an online reservation system, but are only available for a limited time and sell out quickly. In fact, the online reservation system gets so much traffic that it sometimes even crashes from overuse. Those who haven't made reservations online must rush to the ticket counters on the first day of on-site ticket sales, where they stand in long lines hoping for a ticket. Before and after Chuseok day, train stations and bus terminals are packed with people waiting to board for the mass exodus out of the city.
♠ Tip for travelers
During the busy holiday season, train or bus tickets can be hard to get, especially on the days immediately before or after Chuseok. If you are planning to travel from one region to another during the holidays, try going on the day of Chuseok itself, as it will be less crowded.
During the holidays
On Chuseok day, everyone gets up early to arrange food on the small, low table set aside for the ancestral memorial rituals. The memorial foods are usually prepared by the women in the days preceding Chuseok, Though there are still many families cook food for Chuseok at home, recently, some people have opted to order their holiday fare from catering firms.
While cooks may be relieved of one major task, it still takes a great deal of effort and time to set the memorial table according to time-honored customs. After performing the memorial service, people have breakfast together, and then some go out to visit the tomb of their ancestors and have a simple memorial ritual. Today, it is customary for Koreans to visit the tomb one or two weeks before Chuseok and do beolcho, which involves weeding and cutting the grass around the graves. Some people hire a landscaping service instead of doing the work themselves.
The Chuseok holiday is a time for families and relatives to get together and share a meal that traditionally includes newly-harvested rice, songpyeon rice cakes, various pancakes, and fresh fruits. Adult children present special gifts and cash envelopes to their parents, and exchange gifts with other members of the family. In the past, people presented gifts to their family, but it is now more common to give cash or department store gift certificates (gift sets are still purchased for those outside the immediate family). After the morning memorial service, some family members visit their ancestor's tomb, while others may go out to visit a tourist site or enjoy a movie or other leisure activity. In the evening, everyone gets together to have drinks, visit a nearby bar, or take a stroll under the light of the full moon.
* Songpyeon – Half moon-shaped rice cakes enjoyed during the Chuseok holiday.
♠ Tip for travelers
Most stores and places of business are closed on Chuseok, so make sure to purchase anything you need ahead of time. A number of major tourist sites in Seoul remain open during the holidays and even offered Chuseok events and performances, so make sure to check them out.
☞ 2013 Chuseok Holiday Events & Performances
☞ 2013 Chuseok Holiday Schedules at Major Tourist Sites & Shops
☞ Recommended Places to Visit for Chuseok festivities
Korean Folk Village, Namsangol Hanok Village, National Museum of Korea, National Folk Museum of Korea, 5 major palaces in Seoul (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changdeokgung and Huwon and Changgyeonggung Palace), etc
Movies and TV programs on Chuseok
• Photo courtesy: (left) Naver Movies (movie.naver.com)
(middle & right) Movie promotion company, 1stlook
Chuseok is one of the busiest seasons for movie theaters since people are off from work and looking for fun. Various genres including drama, action, thriller, romance, and comedy are showing and there are also more family and romance movies than at any other times. During the Chuseok holiday, television stations including cable stations air special movies. In the past, they tended to present popular foreign films, but in recent times, more hit Korean movies are being shown on TV.
☞ Korean Movie Synopsis
Changing Chuseok scenes
An increasing number of people are now choosing to travel instead of performing traditional memorial rites with the rest of the family. The main reasons for this new trend are the increased number of Christian households who choose not to perform the memorial service for religious reasons and the growing number of people who don't want to fight the holiday crowds and navigate the busy streets. Others simply want to have a chance to use their precious days off from work to take a trip, since vacation days can be used in conjunction with the weekend and holidays. Koreans have relatively short summer vacation days, so this Chuseok holiday can be a good opportunity for them to take a trip.
Some Koreans even view Chuseok as a time for facial enhancement, making it a peak season for plastic surgeons, dermatologists and ophthalmologists. These activities, hardly imaginable ten years ago, reflect the changing concept of Chuseok in Korea.
After the holidays
Chuseok holiday syndrome
During the Chuseok holiday, women spend countless hours rushing around working in the homes of in-laws, preparing holiday food, and washing dishes. These taxing chores often lead to physical and psychological symptoms that manifest themselves during the weeks before and after the holiday. Koreans have gone so far as to coin a special term for this set of symptoms: the Chuseok Syndrome. To solve this problem, there are more and more houses where men help preparing food. Moreover, women go to the sauna or spa to release the fatigue and stress.
Last updated on September 1, 2013