Memos from Asia

How Koreans Celebrate Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok) in South Korea

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Fall is a season that most people enjoy, with so many festivities and holidays coming up in the last few months of the year. Koreans also have many holidays that are celebrated in their culture, and a lot of people love to keep the tradition going among families and future generations.

Chuseok is one of the most important holidays in South Korea, with millennia of tradition and ancient history. The word chuseok derives from the meaning autumn eve, which means that the three day holiday takes place during the middle of the month of September, during the harvest full moon of the lunar calendar.

Koreans have a long history of focusing on the lunar year and phases of the moon, so Chuseok is known to be a part of a major harvest festival holiday connected to the autumn equinox in the fall season. The harvest holiday was created to be a celebration as a way to thank the ancestors and give them an offering in order to ensure good harvest for their crops and animals in the seasons to come.

1. Food

During Chuseok, there are many types of traditional Korean food that Koreans love to prepare and eat to celebrate the major harvest festival holiday. They are the major traditional foods that are known to be eaten as part of the tradition.

Songpyeon

Songpyeon is a type of gelatinous rice cake filled with a sweet filling such as mung beans, pine nuts, black beans, and sesame seeds. It is also a part of the tradition where the women gather together and make songpyeon together as a fun activity. The songpyeon is in the shape of a full moon, which is also a reminder of the full moon of the autumn equinox that chuseok is celebrating. The songpyeon is also symbolic of the Silla Kingdom period of South Korea, which dates back to 935 A.D.

Songpyeon, South Korea

Sikhye

Sikhye is a type of dessert drink in South Korea that was consumed during Chuseok and important dinners over many centuries. The drink’s origin dates back to the Joseon period of the 1300s. The drink is a type of drink made of rice that is sweet in taste and has a clear white color. The rice is freshly harvested, and is a very traditional drink that Koreans will not forget having during Chuseok.

Sikhye drinks and songpyeon, South Korea

Japchae

Japchae is a dish made up of the primary ingredient, glass vermicelli noodles, mixed with thinly sliced vegetables such as spinach, carrots, sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, onions, garlic, and minced beef. Many holidays and celebrations serve japchae as one of the main side dishes to eat with rice in Korea. There are also many restaurants that serve this side dish as well.

Jeon

Jeon is a type of Korean pancake that is mainly made of thinly sliced and marinated scallions and meat such as beef or seafood. The scallions are mixed with chili pepper, garlic, and onions, and are mixed with flour batter. The mixture is fried on a frying pan and is pressed flat to make the mixture evenly cooked into a pajeon.

Jeon Vendor, South Korea

2. Traditional Chuseok clothing

Chuseok, like other holidays, often has the family gather together in traditional Korean hanbok, with the women wearing long exuberant long skirts with a jugeori top piece, and the men wearing hanbok pants with the jeogori top piece. The women’s wear is usually decorated in bright colors with a floral pattern.

Hanbok couple, South Korea

The long skirt is called a chima (literal translation meaning dress/skirt), and the bottom of the dress is usually wrapped in traditional symbols. Sometimes there may be a Korean traditional flower, or there can be other traditional plants or animals.

They create a beautiful accent for the whole hanbok. The otgoreum is a vertical line that hangs from the jeogori to the chima, and it is lined in a different color to make the hanbok more beautiful.

3. Games and Activities

There are many fun games and activities that people play during Chuseok. Many people gather with their families and distant relatives, and play outdoor games. The games are called NeolTtwigi, Jaegi Chagi, and Kang Kang Sullai. Many of these games use handcrafted props made of wood and fabric.

NeolTtwigi

NeolTtwigi is a type of game that looks very similar to a seesaw. The “neol” is a type of wooden plank that is tied in the middle and the participants stand on either side of the seesaw. One person jumps very high in the air and thrusts the other person on the other edge into the air. They keep jumping in turns and thrusts the other person high up, making it a very intense and enjoyable game.

Neolttwigi, South Korea

Jaegi Chagi

Jaegi Chagi is a hackysack made up of knitted fabric filled with beans or rice. The hackysack is kicked by the inner heel of the person into the air, and people have competitions to see who can hit the hackysack the most. Jegichagi is the same as most western versions of hackysack.

Kang Kang Sullai

Kang Kang Sullai is a type of dance and game where women and men usually hold hands and form a circle and gate. A person runs through the gate and forms another part of the gate. Kang Kang Sullai is a traditional game that involves a ritualistic dance, and is meant to bring a good harvest to people’s crops for the year to come. They keep spinning and singing in order to bring good harvest to their lands.

Kang Kang Sullai

4. Traditional Rituals

A major traditional ritual ceremony that people perform during Chuseok is praying and offering food to their ancestors. The ritual is called “Jaesa” and women prepare chuseok food such as sikhye, japchae, fish, types of jeons, meat, fruits, and vegetables in an orderly fashion on the table. They light a candle, incense, and lanterns, and bow to the ancestors. The family and relative members each take a turn to bow and pray for good fortune.

Jaesa ritual, South Korea

Even though this is a major ceremony that takes place during Chuseok, many Koreans practice jaesa ceremonies during funerals of their loved ones. The jaesa is usually for the elders who passed away, and they repeat this ceremony on the day they passed away. They pray to the passed and the ancestors at the same time during the offering.

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  1. I have celebrated chuseok before in America. I love those little rice cakes. Super delicious. The swing looks fun too

  2. I love those rice cake things super delicious. The seesaw looks fun too

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