What Is Chuseok?

Songpyeon is one of the important food during the harvest festival of Chuseok.
Songpyeon is one of the important food during the harvest festival of Chuseok.

Chuseok is one of North Korea and South Korea's biggest and most significant celebrations besides Seollal and Dano. Literally meaning "Autumn eve," Chuseok is a three-day long harvest festival during which families gather together from far and wide to share food and stories, spend quality time with one other, and give thanks to the ancestors for their blessings. Chuseok is celebrated near the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The date is determined by the lunar calendar, falling on the 15th day of the 8th month on the full moon, meaning the dates of the three-day celebration change every year.

When Is Chuseok?

In 2017, the celebrations fell on October 3rd to 5th. The 2017 Chuseok celebrations turned out to be one of the longest ever celebrated. The day fell on October 4th, and as such was observed from September 30th-October 9th. The days included weekends and two holidays, the National Foundation Day and Hangeul Day. The holidays are usually celebrated on the 3rd and 9th of October respectively. In 2018, the holiday was celebrated from September 23rd to 25th while in 2019, Chuseok will take place from September 12th to 14th.  

Chuseok Traditions and Customs

Families gather to hold the charye memorial services on the morning of Chuseok celebrations. During the services, the family prepares an offering to give to the family ancestors. The offering consists of half-moon rice cakes called songpyeon, alcohol, and freshly harvested rice. After the memorial service, the family gathers at the table and enjoys the food. Besides the charye, another traditional custom upheld during the Chuseok is called seongmyo. Seongmyo is a visit to the ancestral graves to show appreciation and respect to the family ancestors. The family members remove any weeds that may have grown around the graves. They also have a simple memorial service to show respect for the deceased.

Chuseok Folk Games and Dances

Chuseok is typically a celebration of abundance and harvest. As a result, Koreans engage in various folk games and entertainment. The two famous dances on the occasion are talchum and ganggangsullae. Talchum is a Korean mask dance, while ganggangsullae is a Korean circle dance. During the circle dance, women dress in Korean clothing called hanbok. They join their hands in a circle and sing together. The famous ganggangsullae dance has its origin in the Joseon Dynasty that reigned from 1392-1910. Whenever the Korean Army went to war, they would dress the women in military clothing and send them ahead of them. The women would circle the mountains with the intent of making the enemy imagine the Korean Army was huge. It was a scare tactic which led to many of the army’s victories. Apart from the dances, another Korean tradition during Chuseok is ssireum. Ssireum is a one-on-one wrestling match held on a circular sand pit. The winner requires lots of skills and strength.

Chuseok Traditional Foods

The important food during the Chuseok celebrations is songpyeon. The preparation of the food begins with kneading rice powder into a ball which is smaller than a golf ball. Then one fills the ball with beans, chestnuts, sesame seeds, red beans, and other preferred ingredients. Then the songpyeon undergoes steaming with pine needles on the rice cake layers. The whole family gathers to make the songpyeon. Koreans believe that the person who makes the most beautifully shaped songpyeon will either give birth to a beautiful baby or meet a good spouse. Other Chuseok foods include rice wines and liqueurs made from newly harvested rice and beautifully textured and colored Hangwa.


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