It’s that time of the year again, “the season with clear skies and stout horses.” Nothing depicts what Korean fall looks alike more accurate than this old saying. During the fall season, the weather is the best and the harvested crops are so plentiful that even livestock get to enrich themselves. Therefore, what’s not to like about this peaceful season? Besides beautiful autumn scenery on the street alongside clear blue skies with cool breeze, smell of pumpkin spice and roasted chestnuts, there’s another reason we wait for fall to come… it is Chuseok time!
1. Chuseok, Happy Korean thanksgiving day!
Chuseok is a harvest festival where the whole nation celebrates together. Many scholars claim that it contains some shamanistic characteristic that may have started from a worship ritual for full moon. Just like many other countries, autumn in Korea is the harvest time of the year. Back in the days when the farmers beard fruits, they celebrated the hard work and humbly showed their gratitude to the ancestors while wishing richer season for the next coming year. Nowadays, all families travel to meet their relatives and celebrate the festival together, which cause a huge traffic we call “mass migration of Chuesok.”
It is an ancestor memorial rite that has been done for thousands of years in Korea. In the morning of Chuseok, all family members hold a memorial service for their ancestors, usually up to around four generations above (it won’t be possible to celebrate all the ancestors over thousands of years!). During the ceremony, food, fruits, and beverage are offered and people bow to the ancestors.
After the ceremony, all family members gather up and eat the food they prepared and used for the ceremony. Koreans see their brothers, sisters, and relatives that you haven’t talked for a long time. It’s the time to reunite and bond with the family.
2. You don’t call it a festival without food!
No food, No party. That’s the universal code for festival and Chuseok is no exception to that. It takes a lot of hands to prepare Chuseok cuisines due to the variety and amount of food that you need to make. The food is meant to serve the ancestors; therefore, Koreans believed that the more heart you put on it, the higher respect you show to your ancestors. Once you taste it, you will fall in love with its delicateness.
About Song pyeon
This lunar moon shaped rice cake filled with bean paste is a representative food for Chuseok. Traditionally, it’s made with the rice of the first harvest of the year. The various fillings you choose to stuff, such as, bean, chestnut, sesame seeds and honey give a unique taste to the song pyeon. After stuffing your rice dough with fillings, you steam them with pine needles to spice them up. It adds distinctive and fresh flavor. It used to be the women’s job to make song pyeon. There’s a saying that if you can shape rice dough close to half moon well, you will have a cute baby, but if you do it poorly… you know where it’s going with. Nowadays it’s not just done by women, but rather by all the family members together.
Alongside Song Pyeon, various foods and fruits are served during the festival. Seasoned vegetables, pork, beef, and fish are mainly served in common. The remaining choices vary by region. In the northern part of Gyeongsang province, they serve a dried shark meat called Dombaegi and octopus because their main harvest is seafood. It is quite interesting to see all different kinds of food setting of the regions.
3. Eat, pray and … play!!
So you saw your long-missed families and filled your stomach with delicious food. That sounds quite satisfying, now it’s time to head to the living room and relax… NOT! The real fun begins after the ceremony. There are many fun activities that await for you to hop in.
About Ganggangsulae Dance
This almost impossible to pronounce dance is traditionally done by women to pray for a bountiful harvest. The dancers would come together under the brightest full moon and make a circle and then they hold each other’s hands. As a lead singer starts singing, the rest sings the refrain “Ganggangsulae” and rotate clockwise. The dance goes faster and faster and it can last until dawn.
No one exactly knows its origin, but many people claim that it’s originated from during the 16c when the Japanese attacked Korea. A naval commander, Yi Sun-shin ordered women to do the dance in military uniform to scare the enemy off. This story is known to be the first form of the dance. If you have never seen the dance, it’s quite interesting and exciting to see, better yet, join the dance too.
Ssiruem is a traditional sport of Korea. Two opponents wrestle while holding each other’s belt called Satba. To win, the player must bring his opponent down to the sandy ground. Unlike Japanese wrestling Sumo, pushing the player outside of circle doesn’t make you win. The biggest contest is being held during the festival. It can be compared to American football on the Thanksgiving Day. Many families enjoy watching the games on TV. Traditionally, the champion of the contest gets a bull and rice as the victory prize along with “the world’s strongest man” title.
Can you imagine what an honor it would be for a man to be called the world’s strongest to bring home a bull in one hand and a rice bag in another?
About Bull Fighting
There is no written record of its origin, but bullfighting has been done traditionally over many countries. However, Korean bullfights doesn’t depict much blood nor killing. So if you’re an animal lover, you can still enjoy the show. As a matter of fact, the bulls are treated much fairly with love. The trainers take care of them in a respectable way. The bulls run several miles daily along with the trainers, and get fed gourmet meals.
The show isn’t all about competition. It’s rather to show how great they raised their livestock. In a contest, these thick-necked bulls are butting their heads until one yields. It could take just a few minutes or many hours to win. Basically, it’s a bull version of Ssiruem. Chungdo is the city known for their annual bullfights festival. They have an exclusive stadium, and small festivals related to bulls. So if you are interested in this unique traditional and exciting game, Chuseok is the good time to visit Chungdo.
Well, last but not least, Happy Chuseok Holidays!!