The Great Middle of Autumn: Chuseok, Korea’s Thanksgiving
Falling in the middle of September this year Chuseok, or Hangawi (한가위) as it’s more traditionally known is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Korean families.
Also known as Korean Thanksgiving day, it is a day in which families traditionally come together to give thanks to their ancestors for an abundant harvest. To equate the importance of the celebrations, it’s almost on a similar scale to Christmas in the West. This year, the beginning of Chuseok falls on the 14th of September. The holiday lasts for three days, around the time of the harvest moon—or to be more precise, the fifteenth day of the eighth month on the Lunar calendar, which isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The celebrations exact origin is uncertain, but it is thought that harvest celebrations would occur around the time of the full moon in the past because the occasion was seen as rare and beautiful. The three days are all public holidays, giving families a chance to meet and spend time together.
On the morning of Chuseok, family members gather to give thanks to their ancestors through a memorial service, called Charye (차례). A memorial such as this also takes place on Seollal, or Lunar New Year’s Day. An important memorial rite, for Charye food is laid out for the entire family, usually prepared using the ingredients of the fresh harvest that year. The only difference is the representative foods eaten at each—for Chuseok, these are freshly harvested rice, alcohol and songpyeon. The food is enjoyed by the family after the service has taken place. It is said that this rite is performed to honour the last four generations of a family’s ancestors.
Around the time of Chuseok, families will often visit their ancestral homes as an act of respect and loyalty. This is called Seongmyo (성묘), and usually occurs a week or so before Chuseok, and on the actual day itself. People also spend their time at the graves removing the weeds that have formed there, an act which is named Beolcho (벌초). It is a way to show respect and care for ancestors, which is a particularly important tradition of Korean culture.
In the past, people also used to dress for the occasion too, wearing Hanbok as Chuseokbim (추석빔), although this tradition has mostly been lost over time. Despite this, the act of buying new clothes still remains an important part of Chuseok traditions, with many South Koreans simply opting to buy more western style formal wear before the celebrations.
Other traditions for the holiday include the performances of Korean circle dances, or Ganggangsullae (강강술래), in which women dress in traditional Hanbok and join hands, dancing when the harvest moon appears. Chuseok is all about giving thanks to those of the past and reconnecting with family. It’s a time of happiness, food, celebrations and most importantly, remembering what you have.
The most traditional food to eat on this day are rice cakes – and we don’t just mean those covered in spicy sauce!
This type of rice cake is made with rice powder, and its final form is a half-moon shaped ball. They are multi-coloured, and are just a bit smaller than golf balls. Each one is filled with sesame seeds, red beans, chestnuts and other delicious ingredients. Lastly, they are steamed. Each family come together to make them, as it is a ritualistic tradition.
Continuing the theme of rice! The most traditional, and delicious drink to wash all of these tasty treats down with? Liquor made with newly harvest rice! This is drank during a memorial service for ancestors of each family