Travel Highlights

      • Traditional Korean Holiday of Bountiful Harvest, Chuseok

        • 09/13/2023


        • Korea Traditional Culture

        • rice_cake_and_mandu_soup

        • rice_cake

        • Korean_royal_cuisine

        • traditional_food

  • Songpyeon, a rice cake representative of Chuseok

    Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day, 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 2023, the day of Chuseok falls on September 29. As the day before and the day after are also part of the holiday, this year’s holiday period is from September 28 to October 1, including the weekend.

    Many Koreans visit their hometowns to spend quality time with their family. For tourists, the holiday also provides a good opportunity to experience traditional culture throughout Korea. Let’s take a closer look at the traditional Korean holiday of Chuseok.

    >> The Meaning of Chuseok (Hangawi)

    Full harvest moon on 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. Han means “big” and gawi means “the ides of the 8th lunar month or autumn.” According to the lunar calendar, the harvest moon, the largest full moon of the year, appears on the 15th day of the eighth month.

    >> Traditions and Customs of Chuseok

    Charye (ancestor memorial services) and Seongmyo (visit to family graves)

    Customs of Chuseok
    • Customs of Chuseok
    • Customs of Chuseok

    In the morning of the day of Chuseok, family members gather at the head house of the family to hold memorial services called charye in honor of their ancestors. Formal charye services are held twice a year: on Seollal and Chuseok. During Chuseok’s charye, freshly harvested rice, alcohol and songpyeon (half-moon rice cakes) are prepared as an offering to the family’s ancestors. After the service, family members sit down together at the table to enjoy delicious food.

    Another traditional custom of Chuseok is seongmyo, or visit to the ancestral graves. Seongmyo is an old tradition that is still carried out to show respect and appreciation for family ancestors. During seongmyo, family members remove weeds that have grown around the graves and pay their respects to the deceased with a simple memorial service.

    Traditional Folk Games

    Traditional folk games (bottom left credit: Korea Ssireum Association)
    • Traditional folk games (bottom left credit: Korea Ssireum Association)
    • Traditional folk games (bottom left credit: Korea Ssireum Association)

    As Chuseok is a celebration of harvest and abundance, the holiday period is made joyful with various entertainment and folk games such as samulnori (traditional percussion quartet), talchum (mask dance), ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance), and ssireum (traditional Korean wrestling). Ganggangsullae is performed during Jeongwol Daeboreum (celebration of 15th day of the first lunar calendar) and Chuseok. In this dance, women dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) join hands in a large 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 stories 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. Ssireum, another significant traditional entertainment, is a one-on-one wrestling match held on a circular sand pit that requires strength and skills.

    >> Chuseok Foods

    • jeon
    • & traditional liquor

    A variety of foods are prepared during Chuseok to celebrate the bountiful harvest of the year, and one of the most significant foods that represents Chuseok is songpyeon. Songpyeon 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 seeds, beans, red beans, chestnuts, or other nutritious ingredients. During the steaming process, the rice cakes are layered with pine needles to add the delightful scent of pine. It is an old tradition for the entire family to make songpyeon together on the eve of Chuseok. An old Korean anecdote says that the person who makes beautifully shaped songpyeon will have a beautiful baby.

    Other significant Chuseok foods include traditional liquor and jeon (Korean pancakes). Jeon are made by slicing fish, meat and vegetables and then lightly frying them in a batter of flour and eggs. They make a perfect pair with traditional Korean liquor.

    More info

      [Chuseok holiday events]
      Seoul | Gyeongbokgung Palace Starlight Tour
      Period: September 8 – October 8, 2023
      Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace of the Joseon period, at night. Try cuisine fit for the king, made in the royal kitchen while you watch traditional music performances. Gain a deeper understanding of the palace as your guide leads you through the buildings on a cool autumn evening.

      Seoul | National Museum of Korea
      Period: September 28 – October 22, 2023 (Closed September 29)
      The museum’s outdoor yard will serve as the venue for a performance of UNESCO registered intangible cultural heritages. Enjoy Korea’s traditional performance arts of pansori and nongak (farm music).

      Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do | Korean Folk Village
      Period: September 28 – October 3, 2023
      Enjoy a traditional Chuseok at Korean Folk Village, a traditional culture theme park. Make your own songpyeon, wear hanbok and prepare a charye table, and watch a ritual performance with farm music.

      [Chuseok holiday free admission]
      Seoul | Royal Palaces, Jongmyo Shrine & Joseon Royal Tombs
      Period: September 28 – October 3, 2023
      Enjoy free admission to the four royal palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung), Jongmyo Shrine, and Joseon royal tombs. Jongmyo Shrine, usually operating with a reservation system, will be open to the public without reservation.

      Seoul | Cheong Wa Dae Daejeongwon
      Period: September 28-30, 2023
      During the K-Music Festival, a free concert of traditional Korean music will be held nightly 19:00-20:30.

      Nationwide | Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art (Seoul, Gwacheon, Deoksugung, Cheongju)
      Period: September 28 – October 3, 2023 (MMCA Seoul closed September 29)
      All branches of the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art will be open for free. Enjoy high-quality art exhibitions such as “Back to the Future: An Exploration of Contemporaneity of Korean Contemporary Art” held at MMCA Seoul.

      Gwangju | Mudeungsan National Park
      The summit of Mudeungsan (alt. 1,187 m), previously closed off to public access, is open to the public starting September 23, 2023. The summit course will take approx. 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete.

      [Chuseok holiday festivals]
      Seoul | Seoul Street Art Festival
      Period: September 29 – October 1, 2023
      Street arts will take place on the streets around Seoul Square. Watch over 30 performances in a range of genre including circus and dance.

      Cheongju-si, Chungcheongbuk-do | Cheongju Craft Biennial
      Period: September 1 – October 15, 2023
      The largest craft festival in the world, this year marks the biennial’s 13th year. Operating under the theme of “The Geography of Objects,” over 300 pieces of artwork from over 20 countries are on display.

      Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do| Pyeongchang 101hong Festival
      Period: September 22 – October 1, 2023
      This festival is themed on zinnia flowers, called baekilhong in Korean because they bloom red for one hundred days. Walk among the thousands of zinnia growing alongside the river in Pyeongchang into a lush oak forest.

      Daegu | E-World Pumpkin Festa
      Period: September 9 – November 5, 2023
      Daegu’s amusement park E-World is holding a fall festival! Take pictures on the orange pumpkin road, and then get your thrills on the 30 amusement park rides, like the 360° spinning Mega Swing.

      Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do | Hueree Pink Muhly Festival
      Period: September 15 – November 15, 2023
      Under the brilliant blue sky, the pink muhly adds a lovely shade to fall. At Hueree, you can also pick green tangerines In September, and tangerines in October.

      * Closed days will vary by attraction. Please confirm details before visiting.

      Recommended Column: Celebrating Chuseok with Signature Foods

      1330 Korea Travel Helpline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay)

    * This column was last updated in September 2023, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check for updates before visiting.

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