Chuseok is sometimes referred to as the ‘Korean Thanksgiving’, ‘Hangawi‘, ‘Jungchujul‘, or ‘Gabe‘ and is celebrated on the brightest full moon of the year, which occurs in mid-August on the lunar calendar. Unlike Western society, Koreans still use the lunar calendar for important dates, so a lot of their holidays are centered around the moon and its cycle.
For 2011, the day of Chuseok falls on September 12th and in 2012, the holiday will be celebrated on September 30th. Chuseok is essentially a celebration of a good harvest, as it’s around this time that grains and fruits will be at their ripest and freshest for harvesting. To celebrate a year of successful farming, families will all pack up and head home to their ancestral hometowns and ‘bon-ga‘ (directly translated to ‘main house’, but it’s usually the home of the oldest or head of the household, e.g., grandparents, parents), where they’ll dress up in traditional clothing, cook delicious food, and pay their respects to their ancestors.
1. ‘bulcho‘: Weeds and such that have grown around the graves of family members all summer long must be picked and discarded.
This is an especially important task for families because Korea (and Asian society in general) places a lot of emphasis on saving face before the public. When one commits a mistake, the first thought isn’t, “Oh no, I am embarrassed,” it’s usually, “What would others think of this mistake?”
Graves with weeds still growing around them after the Chuseok holiday will make others assume that they have undutiful children, and is considered an embarrassment for the family.
2. ‘sungmyo‘: Respect must be paid to the grave, often in the form of bowing before it and offering alcohol, fruits, meat, and shikhye.
Once the tasks are completed, it’s time to play. These games are outdated and families will normally gather to just chat and drink after dinner or play go-stop, but they’re still often put on display at public events.
2. ‘sonori’/'geobuknori‘: Two people will throw on a cape made of hanji (traditional Korean paper made from mulberry trees) and run around town under the guise of a cow or a turtle, going from house to house, asking for food. The food will often be shared with families who cannot afford Chuseok meals.
Songpyeon is one of the representative food items of Chuseok, and it’s made from the newly harvested rice. It’s essentially a small, crescent-shaped rice cake that contains either red beans, chestnuts, jujubes, powdered sesame, or just brown sugar.
When you make the songpyeon, you make a wish as you scoop in the contents and carefully fold it up into a crescent shape so that your wish doesn’t fall out.