This Wednesday-Friday marks the Korean holiday of Chuseok. Chuseok is the Korean Thanksgiving holiday and celebrated every September. It’s a three-day holiday celebrated from the 18-20 of the month, with the actual Chuseok day being the 19th. During this holiday, families return to their ancestral hometowns and gather together – young and old.
Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, the tradition may be found at ancient religious practices that centered around the moon. The sun’s presence was considered routine, but the full moon that came once a month was considered a special and meaningful event. Therefore, harvest festivities took place on the day of the bright, full moon or August 15 on the lunar calendar system.
On the morning of Chuseok day, the women in the family (wives, daughters, grandmothers) spend their time preparing the different traditional foods.
Once the foods are prepared, a memorial service called Charye is performed. Once the memorial ceremony is finished, the family visits their ancestral graves and engage in a ritual where the weeds around the graves are cleared, this is called Beolcho. From the Korean tourism website:
Charye (ancestor memorial services)
On Chuseok morning, family members gather at their homes to hold memorial services (called Charye, 차례) in honor of their ancestors. Formal Charye services are held twice a year: during Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Chuseok. The difference between the two services is that during Seollal the major representative food is Tteokguk, a rice cake soup, while during Chuseok the major representative foods are freshly harvested rice, alcohol and songpyeon (rice cakes). After the service, family members sit down together at the table to enjoy delicious food.
Beolcho (clearing the weeds around the grave) and Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves)
Visiting ancestral graves during Chuseok is known as Seongmyo (성묘). During this visit, family members remove the weeds that have grown around the graves in the summer season, a practice which is called Beolcho (벌초). This custom is considered a duty and expression of devotion and respect for one’s family. 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 familial duties. The graves are then visited again during Chuseok.
Also, Koreans make a liquor called soju (소주), which is made from distilled rice.
(photo credits from the Korean Tourism website)
On Chuseok day, Koreans typically wear traditional clothing. For the women, they wear a dress called a hanbok (한복) or a special dress for holidays called a chuseokbim (추석빔). Men wear a suit called a yanbok (양복).
This holiday is one the important holidays in Korea, along with Seollal (설날- Chinese New Year’s Day) and Dano (the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar New Year).
Chuseok is an interesting holiday, and gives foreigners a chance to learn a little about Korean customs and its history. It’s a nice break for everyone, too. For those of you here in Korea, I hope you have a safe and wonderful holiday break! For those who live in other countries, I hope you have learned a little bit about Korean culture from this holiday.