Happy Chuseok! Here’s Your Guide to Feasting & Celebrating

What is Chuseok? Korean Chuseok (추석) is one of two major holidays in Korea, and it’s a VERY big deal. Considered Korean Thanksgiving, it is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar which generally comes during either September or October. In 2021 it falls on Tuesday, September 21st.

Chuseok translates to “Autumn Eve” and it is a 3-day holiday celebrated in both North and South Korea, and around the world wherever Koreans are living. Traffic is a nightmare in Korea during Chuseok so if you’re outside of Korea, consider yourself lucky and celebrate hassle free.

The other big holiday in Korea is Seollal, or lunar new year, and if there’s one thing you can always count on for both Chuseok and Seollal no matter where you might be living, it’s the rising of a big round full moon. Seollal is the first full moon of the year, and Chuseok is the eighth.

Feasting

Korean Chuseok is a festival that celebrates the beginning of the harvest and, as such, a lot of food and drink is prepared! It is celebrated throughout the world mainly with extensive family time, fun games, and of course, good, glorious food.

The morning of Chuseok, family members will come together, traditionally at the home of the eldest son, a place called ‘Kun Jip’ (literally translated as the Big House). Because of the large gathering and the great feasting that takes place, preparation for Chuseok used to be a weeks-long and labor-intensive undertaking for the Kun Myuneuri, or eldest daughter-in-law.

These days, the other family members often help with the preparations and the workload is shared. Nevertheless, this is a holiday when Koreans look forward to feasting on all their favorite Chuseok foods such as songpyeon (half-moon rice cakes), jeon (Korean pancakes), grilled meats, and rice wine!

Korean Chuseok
A variety of Korean jeon, a traditional chuseok dish.

Remember the Dead and Visit Family Tombs

Many Koreans visit the tombs of their family members during Chuseok to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb. They also offer food and drink to pay respects to the deceased.

On Chuseok morning, people traditionally took part in an ancestral ritual called Charye to honor their ancestors. This ritual involves setting an elaborate table with traditional foods arranged in a way that would invite the spirits into the home to enjoy the feast. These days, many modern Koreans especially Christians, skip these rituals as it is seen as ancestor worship.

Korean Chuseok
Traditional Chuseok table set for Charye (ancestor ritual)

Wear Hanbok

Koreans love dressing up in the traditional hanbok to get in the mood for special occasions like Chuseok and Seollal. Some people even get the family pet involved in the festive dressing with adorable Korean dog hanboks and cat hanboks.

Korean Chuseok
Ginger Yang dressed up in hanbok.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is a very important part of Korean Chuseok. In September, one thing you can’t fail to notice when walking around the shops in Korea are the giant Chuseok gift boxes. These boxes are usually filled with anything from food to toiletries and are given as a gift around this time.

Chuseok gifts

Unlike the Christmas holidays, gifts at Chuseok are not given reciprocally. It is appropriate to give gifts during Chuseok if you are invited to someone’s house during this time, and it’s always a good idea to bring a present that can be shared throughout the house as opposed to individual gifts.

This is also a time when many people send gifts to clients and business associates. Of course, if there is someone you want who has helped you a lot during the year, this could be a good time to repay some of the favor by getting them a Chuseok gift.

This is a time when retailers will stock many gift items. If you live in Korea, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a gift to give during Korean Chuseok because most shops and supermarkets will have huge, clearly labeled gift sets that are suitable for Chuseok gifts.

As Chuseok celebrates the beginning of harvest, many of these gifts will be food-based and they will range from fruits and rice cakes to huge sets of Korean Beef or seafood, or even Spam!

Korean Chuseok
Spam gift sets at Lotte Department Store, Jamsil, Seoul, Joshua Hall for the Wall Street Journal

Playing Go Stop

One of the favorite games to play when the Korean family is gathered is Go Stop! Go Stop is a fun fast-paced game played with small plastic cards called Hwatu (화투). The rules to this game are not simple and it may take at least a few rounds before you figure out how to play it but don’t be surprised if you get addicted! Many Korean Americans have fond memories of their parents and family members playing this game, and not just on holidays.

Here’s a great high quality set of Hwatu cards that come with instructions and other extras:

Korean Chuseok

Check out this video tutorial and try this hard core Korean game for yourself this year!


More Traditions

Lots of families still play traditional games on Korean Chuseok, such as Yutnori or Korean jumprope.

Korean villages traditionally celebrated with various entertainment such as Samoulnori (traditional percussion quartets) or Talchum (masked dances), Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dances), and Ssireum (Korean wrestling).

Korean Chuseok
Talchum dances

However you decide to celebrate this year, make it a Happy Chuseok!

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