On the Korean Traditional Holiday: Chuseok

Chuseok (추석), korean traditional holiday, is originally known as Hangawi (한가위) –meaning the great middle of autumn. It is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in Korea. We celebrate Chuseok based on lunar calender-specifically 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. So it usually happens around middle of September.

As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon (송편) and rice wines such as sindoju (신도주) and dongdongju (동동주).


One of the major foods prepared and eaten during the Chuseok holiday is songpyeon (송편), a Korean traditional rice cake which contains stuffing made with ingredients such as sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube, and honey. When making songpyeon, steaming them over a layer of pine-needles is critical. The word ‘song’ in songpyeon means a pine tree in Korean. The pine needles not only contribute to songpyeon’s aromatic fragrance, but also its beauty and taste.

Songpyeon is also significant because of the meaning contained in its shape. Songpyeon’s rice skin itself resembles the shape of a full moon, but once it wraps the stuffing, its shape resembles the half-moon. Since the Three Kingdoms era in Korean history, a Korean legend stated that these two shapes ruled the destiny of the two greatest rival kingdoms, Baekje and Silla. During the era of King Uija of Baekje, an encrypted phrase, “Baekje is full-moon and Silla is half moon” was found on a turtle’s back and it predicted the fall of the Baekje and the rise of the Silla. The prophecy came true when Silla defeated Baekje in their war. Ever since, Koreans started to refer to a half-moon shape as the indicator of the bright future or victory. Therefore, during Chuseok, families gather together and eat half-moon-shaped Songpyeon under the full moon, wishing themselves a brighter future. Sometimes we make Songpyeon, but nowadays, people usually buy it from stores.


Another popular Korean traditional food that people eat during Chuseok is han-gwa (한과). It is an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns. Hangwa is made with rice flour, honey, fruit, and roots. People use edible natural ingredients to express various colors, flavors, and tastes. Because of its decoration and nutrition, Koreans eat hangwa not only during Chuseok, but also for special events, for instance, weddings, birthday parties, and marriages.

Aside from the food, therer are other significant things that represent Chusoek. First one is that we wear Korean traditional clothes, called Han-bok (한복). Usually, Han-bok is made of silk, so its texture is soft, looking good. You can see what it looks like from the pictures below. Traditional hanbok is heavy so hard to wear it easily. But today, the design of Hanbok is refined and used variety of colors so people can wear it with no pressure.



Lastly, we have one of the ancestral memorial rites-named Cha-rye (차례) which has been performed for thousand years. It is done in the morning of Chuseok, and family hold a memorial service for their ancestors, usually honoring four generations back. The meaning of Cha-rye is to return their favors and honor them. It is due to a belief that Koreans do not believe a person is really dead when they physically die. They believe their spirits are still alive and protect the descendants, so they honor their ancestors by preparing special foods for them. Also, it is important to know how to arrange the foods of Cha-rye on the table: on the north, rice and soup are placed; and, fruits and vegetables are on the south. On the west and in the middle, meat dishes are served; and, on the east, rice cake and some drinks such as mak-geol-li or soju are placed. The details may vary from each region You can see this in the picture above.

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This is pretty much of  Chuseok, and it is time to enjoy it!

(Source: Wikipedia)


Article by Shinhwa from Korea

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