Chuseok 101

September 10, 2014 | 2144 Visits

Happy Chuseok everyone!

Today is supposed to be a day of family and happiness in Korea. Hopefully, for many, it is a happy day full of food and joy, although we know some recent events may not make it so.

While Chuseok festivities go on in Korea, many foreigners may not know what it is. Don’t worry: We have you covered!

What is Chuseok?

Chuseok is what is known by many as “Korean Thanksgiving” and goes by other Korean names like “hangawi,” “gabe,” or “jungchujul.” Like American Thanksgiving, the holiday celebrates a bountiful harvest, family, and even to provide thanks to ancestors for the harvest they are about to enjoy.  Workers and celebrities often go home for Chuseok in order to celebrate with loved ones.


When is Chuseok Celebrated?
Korea often uses the Lunar Calendar for important holidays and events. Chuseok is one of those important holidays that use the Lunar Calendar to determine where it falls.

Unlike the U.S. Thanksgiving that always falls on the fourth Thursday in November, Chuseok falls when the Harvest Moon is at its fullest.  For 2014, the fullest Harvest Moon appears on September 8; in 2015, the fullest Harvest Moon will be September 27.

Are There Any Chuseok Customs?
In the United States, there are a few things we’re accustom to with our Thanksgiving: Turkey, football, the National Dog Show, and maybe some feel-good TV movies. In Korea, Chuseok has many customs families may engage in to celebrate the holiday.

Ancestors play a large role in Chuseok festivities. One of the first customs is beolcheo. Families visit the graves of ancestors to clear out plant debris as a sign of respect. Families are important, and cleaning the graves shows the living still respect those long gone. It is a sign of faithfulness to families since leaving graves unintended sends a negative message that a family does not care or do not want to perform their duties to appease ancestors.


 Seongmyo and Charye
Seongmyo involves celebrating ancestors by visiting their graves. Celebrations involve bringing food such as fruit, meat, and soju.

A family celebrates Chuseok with a traditional charye meal/via Epoch Times

Charye is where families set up an altar of food in the home for ancestors so they can eat well in the afterlife. The food for charye is often fresh foods from the harvest. After the ancestors “eat,” families then sit down to enjoy the food.  In Reply 1997, you can see a charye celebration done by Shi-won’s (A Pink’s Eun-Ji) parents.

Fun and Games
For Chuseok, there are even traditional games and activities such as ssireum and ganggangsullae.

Ssireum is Korean wrestling. Competitors get in the ring to show their strength and prowess while trying to pin one another. The competition keeps going until one man prevails as the strongest in the village.

Women take part in ganggangsullae, a traditional folk dance. To perform the dance, women join hands and dance in a circle while singing, celebrating the harvest moon. According to UNESCO, it is a dance to “relieve remorse and anger.”


What are the Outfits Worn During Chuseok?
Chuseokbim (Korean dress) are new clothes worn for Chuseok. While some opt for traditional dress, others may purchase brand new Westernized clothing for the event. Some choose to forego hanbok due to cost, but those who do wear them often purchase one in neutral tones in order to stretch out their use for years to come.

B.A.P and Secret show off their traditional hanbok back in 2013.

During Chuseok, you may see images of actors, idols, and regular people wearing a traditional hanbok as their Chuseokbim. Hanbok come in many different colors, but it’s often recommended to wear one that best compliments skin tone and even the age of the wearer!

What are Some Chuseok Foods?
Since Chuseok celebrates harvest, fresh fruits, veggies, and grains are common Chuseok food.
One traditional food is songpyeon, a small colorful rice cake made with rice powder and filled with red beans, sesame, or chestnuts among many other tasty ingredients. The night before Chuseok, families gather to make the treat, which is also layered and steamed with pine needles to make it aromatic.

Songpyeon is an art in itself/via

Eating songpyeon is supposed to bring good fortune to the eater, and legend says songpyeon may even help women find a good husband and give birth to pretty daughters.

Soju is also part of the traditional meal as it’s shared with family members to celebrate their ancestors.

Although Chuseok is a Korean holiday, foreigners can take a chance to experience the wonders of the holiday! Throughout Korea, you can take advantage of Chuseok events so you can see what it’s all about!

– Joelle Halon

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