Celebrating Korea’s Thanksgiving

The Korean Thanksgiving, also known as Chuseok, is one of Korea’s three major holidays. It is also referred to as Hangawi, which means “the ideas of August”.

Chuseok is the day that Koreans thank their ancestors for the year’s harvest and share their food with family and friends. Though exact origin of the holiday is unclear, the holiday can be traced back to religious practices that focus on the moon cycles. The full moon that comes once a month, brightening the the night sky, was considered a meaningful event. This is why the holiday is held on August 15 of the lunar calendar. According to the sun calendar, the holiday is celebrated over a few days depending on the year.

Koreans hold a memorial service, called Charye, for their ancestors on the morning of Chuseok. Formal Charye services are only held twice a year: once on Chuseok and once during the lunar New Year’s, also known as Seollal.

Following the services, Koreans feast on the food they have prepared from the year’s harvest. The feast is to give thanks to their ancestors. Koreans set out a special dish that is only made on Chuseok called Songpyeon. It is a rice cake prepared with rice or rice powder that is then kneaded to the size slighly smaller than a golf ball. They are filled with beans, sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beans, and other nutritious foods. Once several of them are made, they are stacked on a plate and layered with pine needles. They are then steamed to add a delectable pine scent.

Koreans also visit the graves of their ancestors during the holiday, this known as Seongmyo. During the visit, Koreans remove the weeds that have grown around the graves. This practice is called Beolcho. The tradition is seen as an expression of respect for one’s family.

Another custom for the Chuseok holiday are wrestling competitions. Two competitors face off in a circular sandpit surrounded by spectators. The strongest individuals of each village participate to be named the village’s strongest man. For winning, they may also take home rice, cotton, or a calf.

Korean women participate in Ganggangsullae (Korean Circle Dance) during the holiday. Women hold hands and sing together while dressed in traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. This tradition dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The Korean army used to dress young women in military uniforms and had them circle the mountains to make the enemy think their military was bigger than it was.

In earlier years of the holiday, it was tradition for the head of each household to purchase new clothes for everyone in the household. This is known as Chuseokbim. However, today many Koreans buy clothing from department stores and boutiques rather than traditional clothing.


Official Site of Korean Tourism: Chuseok

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