Autumn is fast approaching and with it come all the lovely festivals that celebrate the bounty of the season!
One such festival is celebrated in Korea-both North and South. It’s called Chuseok, and that translates to “Autumn Eve.”
This is like Korea’s version of the American Thanksgiving holiday.
Except they celebrate the holiday for three whole days! Festivities begin the day before the actual date of the holiday, and continue on through the day after. It’s considered the biggest holiday of Korea.
When Did Chuseok Begin?
Currently, Chuseok is on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It usually falls in late September or early October. It’s celebrated on the first full moon of the fall, also known as the harvest moon.
The origins of the holiday vary. Some say that it is a variant of a festival which began during the Shilla Dynasty, which was around 57 BC to 935 AD.
The holiday was called Gabae, which is still used today. Then it was a weaving competition.
Others say that the holiday originated with the ancient people who lived in the area. They say that it was a holiday in which the people paid tribute to their deities and celebrated a good harvest.
It definitely goes back to the farming roots of the people of Korea, no matter when it started.
How Do People Celebrate Chuseok?
Chuseok is celebrated with games, food, and family gatherings with people traveling back to their hometowns to honor their families’ ancestors.
Dancing and Games
One of the games played during the Chuseok celebrations is called Ssireum. It’s traditional Korean wrestling. The first person to knock their opponent off their feet wins.
Originally held in villages among family and friends, the winner was declared the village’s strongest person. They’d get prizes like cotton or rice. Now ssireum competitions are held nationwide, and winners often get a cash prize.
Another national celebration is Ganggangsullae. This is a Korean circle dance.
Some say that the dance was started during the Joseon Dynasty, the women of the villages dressed in military uniforms and circled the mountains to make their armies look like they had lots and lots of soldiers. This tactic worked well to intimidate their foes!
Others say that the dance was started way before that in ancient times. The women would gather together and hold hands, singing and dancing, under the brightest full moon of the year. This was to celebrate and ensure a good harvest.
Either way, it’s still a national event today!
The food of Chuseok is a celebration of the harvest.
Families gather and prepare special foods like songpyeon. These are little moon-shaped rice cakes. Made with finely ground new rice and filled with things like black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nuts, and honey. They are steamed on a bed of pine needles.
Other foods that are enjoyed during this festival are fruits, like Asian pears, grilled fish, seafood fritters, called saenseonjeon, and a special three-color vegetable side dish, called samsaek namul. The three colors that are used are white, brown, and green.
The significance of the veggie side dish is its part of the display offered to the family’s ancestors.
All the food dishes are gathered together and arranged on a table in a special order. This part of the memorial ceremony is a ritual called Charye. The food preparations are started the night before and the table is laid out the morning of Chuseok.
The table is arranged with all the foods representing a direction. North, west, east, south, and the center.
All the foods represent something and there’s even a list of 14 rules on how to properly set the table. This is to honor the ancestors and unite them with the family.
The time leading up to Chuseok is when families will hit the road to visit relatives and the graves of their ancestors.
Of course, with everyone traveling, the holiday is also associated with terrific traffic jams! Just like the traffic experienced on the days leading to Thanksgiving here in the US.
Some of the ways people honor their ancestors is by visiting the gravesites and clearing the weeds that have grown during the summer, and doing a general clean-up, making everything look nice again.
Chuseok is a big deal for the people of Korea. It’s a time for family, friends, and gathering together in appreciation and remembrance of great things.
You can celebrate Chuseok with amazing recipes from our South Korea box eat2explore!