Week 11: Celebrating Chuseok

Gwangju Travel Blog

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Traditional offerings at Chuseok.

In order to best explain the Korean version of Thanksgiving let me quote an article from www.theholidayzone.com:

"Chuseok, the “Harvest Moon Festival,” is one of the three biggest holidays in Korea. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, which usually falls in September or October. Chuseok is a time for families to give thanks for the year’s harvest.

Traditionally, Chuseok is celebrated over a three-day period. Koreans celebrate this holiday in their hometowns. But first, they have to get to their hometowns. ... And getting there isn’t easy! With most of the country’s population traveling, traffic is incredible. Roads resemble parking lots as cars and buses creep along, bumper to bumper.

Chuseok is the time for visiting ancestors' graves and paying them homage.
A trip that usually takes two hours may take 10, 12, or more. Some destinations are accessible by train or plane, but tickets sell out within hours of going on sale.

Once weary travelers reach their hometowns, there’s work to be done. Family members spend the day before Chuseok preparing traditional foods for the feast. The most famous of these is songpyeon. To make this special rice cake, rice from the new harvest is ground into flour. It is then boiled and kneaded to make dough. The women (and often the children) in the family shape pieces of this dough in circles. They stuff it with such things as honey, sesame seeds, dried fruit, chestnuts, and bean paste, then fold the circles into half-moon shapes. Finally, they arrange the songpyeon on a bed of freshly-picked pine needles and steam.
Songpyeon, traditional rice cakes made with sesame seeds, honey and chestnuts and steamed over pine needles.

On the morning of Chuseok, family members put on their best outfits" usually traditional hanbok" and honor their ancestors with a feast of foods from the new harvest. The feast includes rice, rice wine, and songpyeon, along with kimchi nuts, fruit, and fish.

Families often visit the tombs of their ancestors to pay tribute. First, they tend to the graves. They cut grass, pull weeds, and clean up the surrounding area. Then comes the final Chuseok ceremony. Family members perform a formal bow at the graves to express gratitude to their ancestors. They may also leave food offerings.

Once the ancestral ceremonies are over, families eat and celebrate together. Older family members often tell stories to the younger ones. Later in the day, families may play traditional games.
Many koreans where the traditional clothing, hanbok, at Chuseok and Seollal, the Lunar New Year.
The day often ends with a special dance known as “Gang-gang-su-lae.” This circle dance supposedly originated in the 16th century, when a Korean admiral stopped a Japanese invasion by ordering women to dress in military uniforms and dance in circles around fires in the evening. Japanese forces saw the dancers and were tricked into believing the area was well-defended."

Our five day Chuseok vacation was very low-key.  We had originally discussed going to visit a city on the coast with Grace but we changed our minds when we heard about how bad traffic can get.  The bus trip from Seoul to Gwangju usually takes about 3.5 hours; on Chuseok day there were traffic reports of the trip often taking anywhere from 8 to 10 hours, yuck!  I'm very glad we decided not to be adventurous.

A Chuseok gift from Young Im. How do you like them apples? They're huge!
  Justin and I spent our five days parttaking in a sleep/movie-athon.  We now have cable TV (for roughly $3 a month) so we were able to choose from FIVE, count-em, FIVE english language channels.  Granted one is CNN that runs on a 2 hour loop, and one is the trusty old action network with almost continuous movie tributes to Steven Seagal and Schwarzenegger, but the other three stations sometimes suriprise with more recent movies and past episodes of "Gilmore Girls" and "Friends." 

Whereas Justin was content relaxing in the apartment I did venture out on Sunday afternoon to make a much-needed trip to E-mart (we had been living on various types of Ramen for the last 10 days) so Grace and I braved the crowds and headed into the bustling grocery store.

Chuseok dinner with Grace.
  We were greeted by the hundred or so usual employees shouting at us to buy their goods but this time to my delight they were all wearing festive traditional clothes (hanbok) in the spirit of Chuseok. Over an hour and $200 dollars later we finally emerged, heavily-laden with a ton of food. (Note:  Usually our shopping trips are not so expensive but I was hungry and there were so many holiday delicacies that I succumbed to my cravings after a rather short-lived battle with my non-existent will power. Oops.) 

After returning to our apartment with the groceries Grace prepared us a delicious Chuseok dinner.  Earlier in the day she had celebrated with her aunt and cousins.  She was still stuffed from her holiday lunch but she made us a lot of food and even treated us to songpyeon, the traditional rice cakes that her aunt had made.

The menu consisted of fried mushrooms, fried tofu, boiled dumplings, rice (of course), bean sprout and tofu soup seasoned with anchovies, boiled bean sprouts and for dessert sliced asian pear and rice cakes. The food looks bland but it was yummy :)
  I ran down to the mini mart for some more beer and we ended the night playing cards (actually Justin and Grace played cards, I sat on the bed by myself and giggled at them- my tolerance has not improved yet.)  By the end of the break Justin and I felt very much relaxed and not very eager to return to work.  But on the upside, we only had to work for 2 days, then we had the weekend to look forward to. I remember last year I would have to work 4- 10 hour days preceding a day off to make up for my unpaid holidays.  I love working less here and getting paid more.  Life is so rough :)

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Traditional offerings at Chuseok.
Traditional offerings at Chuseok.
Chuseok is the time for visiting a…
Chuseok is the time for visiting …
Songpyeon, traditional rice cakes …
Songpyeon, traditional rice cakes…
Many koreans where the traditional…
Many koreans where the traditiona…
A Chuseok gift from Young Im. How …
A Chuseok gift from Young Im. How…
Chuseok dinner with Grace.
Chuseok dinner with Grace.
The menu consisted of fried mushro…
The menu consisted of fried mushr…
Following tradition, Grace and I e…
Following tradition, Grace and I …
photo by: khartl731