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Chuseok – Full Moon Harvest Holiday

 

Chuseok is one of Korea’s most largely celebrated holidays. It is a time when families and friends gather to share food and enjoy their time together, giving thanks to their ancestors for the year’s bountiful harvests. This year, Korea’s representative traditional holiday of Chuseok falls on September 14th of the solar calendar. It will last three days, from September 13th to September 15th and marks a prime opportunity for foreign visitors to tour Korea’s cities and experience Korea’s culture while all the bustling crowds are away visiting family relatives. Let us look a little deeper in to what Chuseok represents for Koreans.

Chuseok (Hangawi)

As one of Korea’s three major holidays, the other two being Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Dano (the 5th of the 5th month of the year according to the lunar calendar), Chuseok is also referred to as Hangawi, which means the very middle of August, or August 15th according to the lunar calendar. As an agrarian society throughout history, Hangawi was the day in which Koreans thanked the ancestors for the year’s harvest and shared their abundance with family and friends. Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, Chuseok can be traced back to a religion related to the moon from ancient times. The sun was considered natural, but the full moon that came once a month to brighten the dark night was seen as a grateful presence. Therefore, festivities took place on the day of the largest full moon, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, and thus became, and is to this day, one of the most important days of celebration.

Chuseok Customs

On the morning of Chuseok Day, Songpyeon (type of Korean rice cake) and food prepared with the year’s fresh harvest are arranged to give thanks to ancestors through Charye (ancestor memorial service). After Charye, families visit their ancestors’ graves and engage in Beolcho, where weeds around the burial grounds are removed. As the night nears, families and friends enjoy the beautiful view of the full harvest moon and play folk games such as Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance).

- Charye (ancestor memorial services)
On Chuseok morning, family members gather at their homes to hold memorial services in the honor of their ancestors called Charye. Formal Charye services are held twice a year during Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Chuseok. The difference between the two services is that during Seollal the major representative food is white tteok-guk, a rice cake soup, while during Chuseok the major representative food is freshly harvested rice. After the service, the family members sit down together at the table to enjoy some delicious food to symbolize their blessings.

- Beolcho (removing weeds around the grave) and Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves)
Visiting ancestral graves during Chuseok is known as ‘Seongmyo’ and during this visit, family members usually cut the weeds that have grown around the graves in the summer season. Taking care of the ancestral graves such as removing weeds is called ‘Beolcho’. This custom is considered a duty and an expression of devotion. 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 ancestral duties.

- Ssireum (Korean wrestling)
In the past, the strongest of the villagers gathered to hold wrestling competitions. The sport of wrestling on sand while being surrounded by spectators has become a traditional favorite in Korea. The last wrestler standing was considered the winner and was acknowledged as the villager’s strongest man and took home cotton, rice, or a calf as his prize. Today, Ssireum (Korean wrestling) competitions are still held as a folk competition, a one-on-one game to determine the strongest man in Korea.

- Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance)
Mothers and daughters dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) gather around in a circle, holding hands, and sing together. This dance originated from the Joseon Dynasty during the Japanese invasion when the Korean army dressed Korean mothers and daughters in military uniforms and had them circle a mountain peak to make the Japanese think the Korean military was greater in number than it actually was. Through this strategy, the Koreans were eventually able to defeat the Japanese.

- Chuseokbim (Chuseok dress)
Traditionally on Chuseok, the head of the household would buy new clothes for everyone, including the servants. This custom was known as Chuseokbim. Usually, a traditional hanbok is worn, but nowadays newly purchased clothes are not limited to hanbok. Today, families put on a modern type of hanbok called Chuseokbim and hold Charye services, and afterwards, they enjoy their time together.

Chuseok Food

Chuseok is a time for rich plentiful harvests. Therefore there are many fruits and newly harvested rice with which rice, tteok, and drinks are made from.

- Songpyeon
Songpyeon is one of the representative snacks of Chuseok. This rice cake is prepared with rice or non-glutinous rice powder that is kneaded into the perfect size, then filled with sesame seeds, beans, red beans, chestnuts, and a host of other nutritious foods. When steaming the songpyeon, the bottom of the rice cakes are layered with pine needles, which fill the rice cakes with their delightful fragrance. On the evening of Chuseok Eve, the entire family gathers together to make songpyeon under the bright moon. There is an old Korean saying that says that the person who makes the most beautiful songpyeon will meet a good-looking spouse. Therefore, the single members of the family try their best to make the nicest looking songpyeon as they laugh out loud in merriment.   
Click here to view how to make Songpyeon

- Alcoholic Beverages
Another major element of Chuseok is the alcoholic beverages. This traditional Chuseok drink is made of newly harvested rice and is also known as “The Hundred Year” Drink. People who look forward to this major holiday are also rich in generosity and like to share their generosity over drinks.

Recommended Places to Visit for the Chuseok Holidays

During the Chuseok holidays, highly recommended courses for those who would like to experience a traditional Korean holiday include events held at ancient palaces, the Korean Folk Village, and the Namsangol Hanok Village. Traditional performances and traditional hands-on programs will be held from September 13th to the 15th at the Korean Folk Village and the Namsangol Hanok Village.

In addition, various folk game programs and folk performances are to be staged at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Deoksugung Palace. From September 13th to September 15th of the Chuseok holidays, these four major palaces will offer free admission to all guests wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dresses). Free programs that will be offered, including traditional Korean games such as neolttwigi (seesaw jumping), Tuho Deonjigi (arrow throwing), Jegichagi (tassel kicking), and Paengichigi (top spinning) during the three days of the Chuseok vacation (September 13-15).

 

Korean Folk Village 2008 Chuseok Holidays Event

Type

Event Name

Event Dates

Event Location

Event Description

13 14 15

Time

Performances

Nongak

11:00/15:00

Performance Stage

-  traditional Korean instrumental folk music played during holidays or when working in groups

Neolttwigi

11:30/15:30

- a traditional game where a long board is set up with a support in the middle, then a female stands on each side of the board and takes turn jumping

Jultagi

11:40/15:40

 - a performance where tightrope walkers perform on a rope standing in midair

Traditional Wedding

12:00/16:30

Yangbanga

- a reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding ceremony

Masangmuye

13:00/16:00

Performance Stage

- martial arts performed on horseback

TIP!
During the Chuseok holidays, most places are closed for business except for tourist attractions and places that have prepared Chuseok ceremonies. So be sure to check the holiday schedule of your destination. You can check the holiday schedule for some of the major tourist attractions by looking at the links below.
→2008 Chuseok Events Information
2008 Major Chuseok Tourist Attractions and Store Closing Dates

 

Date 08/26/2008



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