Koreans look forward to celebrating this year’s Chuseok holiday as this is the first time in three years that social distancing due to the pandemic has been lifted. More than thirty million Koreans were expected to hit the road to visit their families and ancestral homes in Korea’s smaller towns.
The Chuseok weekends looked promising, mainly because the weather forecasts assured good weather, and daily COVID-19 cases reported were diminishing.
Chuseok is an important holiday celebrated in Korea, as it is considered as the Korean Thanksgiving. But Chuseok is actually a celebration of the mid-autumn full moon during which people gather before the harvest to enjoy food, play games, and pray for a bountiful year.
Koreans have beautiful traditions for Chuseok festivities. Here are five traditions in celebrating Chuseok holidays.
1. Dressing up nicely in Hanbok
The Hanbok used to be worn daily in Korea until the twenty-first century. The materials and colors then used reflected social status, with brighter colors and more expensive materials reserved for royalty and the elite. The hanbok is now worn only during special occasions such as weddings or Chuseok.
Koreans give gifts to their families, friends, business associates, and clients during Chuseok. The usual gifts given would be food, ginseng, and sometimes cash. Traditional gifts are usually harvested food, but the times have made gift-giving more creative, and stores now offer gift sets. Many stores are generally closed on Chuseok holidays, but there are a lot of sales before the holidays in department stores, supermarkets, and other stores. Asian groceries are also a good source of gifts.
3. Traditional Food
Although times are changing and the younger generation celebrated more and more with anything they consider delicious, there is still a certain charm in celebrating Chuseok with traditional fare. Here are a few of the traditional food served during Chuseok
Songpyeon is Chuseok’s iconic food, a tiny, crescent-shaped colorful rice cake filled with red beans, chestnuts, jujubes, powdered sesame, or brown sugar. Families used to gather around to make songpyeon together, but these days songpyeon can be purchased.
Japchae is a stir-fry dish using sweet potato starch noodles topped with meat and vegetables and seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. This is sometimes used as a side dish or an entree.
Galbijjim is braised beef short ribs, a savory yet sweet dish that takes at least two hours to cook to ensure the meat becomes tender and juicy.
Hangwa are sweets that can be found anywhere. Different kinds of hangwa are made with various fillings such as fruit jelly, fruits, honey and nuts, beans, cookies, or taffies.
4. Fermented Drinks and Teas
There are plenty of drinks that enrich Korean culture., with Soju as the most popular one. Soju is a distilled spirit made from different grains and usually comes in an iconic green glass bottle. Aside from the neutral flavor, there is fruit-flavored soju for those who prefer a sweeter taste.
Other drinks include Makgeolli (rice wine), Sogokju (traditional liquor made from glutinous rice and yeast), Cheongju (another type of rice wine), Sikhye (a sweet cold drink made from cooked rice and malted barley), and many other alcoholic beverages. Non-alcoholic beverages include herbal and fruit teas and banana milk for children.
5. Folk Games
Folk games have been traditionally played to celebrate Chuseok. Ganggangsullae is a 5,000-year-old dance recognized and described by UNESCO as a “seasonal harvest and fertility ritual.” Women dressed in hanboks form a circle and hold hands while playfully miming vignettes of rural life and repeating the name of the dance.
There are other games as well, such as Ssireum, a wrestling event between two participants; Juldarigi, a tug-of-war game using an enormous hand-woven straw rope; Dalkssaum, a “chicken-fighting game” wherein players try to knock each other over while holding onto one leg and hopping around., and Go-Stop, a fast-paced game played with cards called Hwatu.
Some Chuseok traditions are no longer practiced. Although some people still dress up in hanbok, most of the population wears suits or casual clothing. However, Koreans still look forward to this holiday as the time of year to visit family and hometowns, eat delicious traditional meals and relax for a few days.