Chuseok, also known as Hangawi or the Korean Thanksgiving, is a traditional festival that celebrates the fall food harvest. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. During the three-day holiday of Chuseok in South Korea, most people go back to their hometowns, spend time with family members, and show appreciation for the fall harvest. It is one of the most culturally important festivals in the country.
Through K-Pop and other forms of K-Media, most Hallyu consumers are aware that during Chuseok, people usually wear the traditional Korean attire hanbok and enjoy traditional cuisine. But here are five interesting facts about this unique festival that might still be unknown to many.
1. The History
According to folk legends, the festival originates from the ancient Gabae. The third king of the kingdom of Silla started a month-long weaving contest between two teams. The last day of the competition was Gabae, where the team which had weaved more cloth would be treated by the other team to a huge feast.
On the other hand, a significant section of scholars believes that Chuseok might have originated from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon. Since ancient Korea was largely an agriculture-dependent society, scholars believe that Chuseok might have evolved from the old worship rituals where new harvests were offered to local deities and ancestors.
2. The Customs
Many of the old traditional customs of Chuseok are still observed by Korean people. Two of the most significant practices are Charye and Beolcho. Charye refers to the ancestral memorial services that take place on the morning of Chuseok day. Family members gather together and present several food offerings to honor their ancestors in the afterlife.
Beolcho is another ancestral rite where family members visit the graves of their ancestors and pluck out the weed that might have grown around them. It is considered to be a sign of filial devotion and is usually observed right before the Chuseok holiday.
3. The Food
Though there are several food items that families prepare on this occasion, some of the most common savory options include Jeon (Korean pancakes), Japchae (glass noodles with stir-fried vegetables and meat), and Galbijjim (braised beef short ribs).
The sweet dishes include Songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cakes filled with sesame seeds, mung beans, black beans, honey, walnut, etc.) and Hangwa (a category of sweets made from rice cakes with honey, fruits, and roots).
One of the most significant elements of Chuseok is alcohol. The traditional liquor that people drink during this festival is called Baekju, which is made out of fresh rice water.
4. The Gifts
Though it is not compulsory to give gifts during Chuseok, generally, it is considered a polite gesture to offer the hosts some sort of a gift when you visit the family house for the festival. There are several kinds of gift sets available in South Korea during this time. People tend to gravitate more towards options that can be shared among family members since it is more practical. Some popular gift ideas include Spam gift sets, fruit baskets, and meat sets.
5. The Activities
There are many traditional activities that people participate in during Chuseok. One of them is Ganggangsullae, a folk dance performance by women as a prayer for a fruitful harvest. The performers gather under the full moon, join their hands, and rotate in circles in a clockwise direction. The speed of the dance increases steadily and sometimes lasts until dawn!
Another interesting activity popular during this time is Ssireum. It is the traditional form of wrestling that became popular during the Joseon Dynasty. Two participants wrestle each other while holding the opponent’s belt, and the one who gets their opponent down on the sandy ground wins. It is standard practice across Korean families to watch Ssireum contests on TV during Chuseok.