Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving

 All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

 

Holidays give us a chance to learn about a culture. Many cultures celebrate Thanksgiving. They give thanks for their families and for a plentiful harvest. A few examples of these celebrations are the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, the Vendimia in Argentina, Sukkot for the Jewish people, Kinrō kansha no hi in Japan, New Yam Festival in Nigeria, Akhatrij in parts of India and Oseniny in Russia.

In the United States and Canada, Thanksgiving is a chance to get together with our family members and celebrate with a “feast” of turkey, yams, cranberry sauce, pies and other delicious foods that come from our land.

In Korea, people also celebrate Thanksgiving or Chuseok. It is the most important holiday besides the New Year. Chuseok is a time when families get together to celebrate the harvest, the love of family and the respect and honor for their ancestors.

During the weeks leading to Chuseok, people spend time at the stores buying special foods to prepare and gifts to bring to their family homes, friends and business colleagues. The streets and stores have a feel that is a mixture of Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is definitely a mood of celebration, preparation and excitement in the air.

As one of my passions is food, Chuseok gave me a chance to learn about the different gifts of food that Koreans share with each other. It has been a unique experience to see the beauty of the produce, the packaging and the variety of foods that you do not see in the United States. Shiny boxes with Korean pears and huge round apples, mushrooms of all kinds, root vegetables that I did not know existed, different kinds of seaweed in exquisite boxes, special meats put in boxes wrapped in colorful cloths.

Chuseok is held when there is a full moon, according to the lunar calendar. The women prepare many special dishes to offer them to their ancestors in a ceremony called charye. This ceremony takes place in the morning and is led by the elder son who honors his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Food and drinks are set out on a special table for the ancestors to eat and drink. There is also another small table that has foods for the well-being of the home. After the ceremony, the family gathers to eat at a long table that is covered with small dishes of the most delicate and delicious food. There is fish, meat, spinach, mushrooms, noodles or japchae, kimchi, a kind of pancake or jeon with vegetables and a very delicate beef soup. One of the traditional Thanksgiving foods is a kind of rice cake called songpyeon. It is filled with the tastiest sesame sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beans, or other similar ingredients and the dough is white, red, green or purple. Dessert includes juicy and delectable Korean pears, sweet apples and tiny purple grapes.

I have been incredibly fortunate and honored to be part of this very special family celebration. My “Korean family” invited me to join them not only for the meal but also for the ceremony. According to my friend’s father, who led the ceremony in honor of his ancestors, their family has a modified and modernized ceremony. It was powerful to see three generations together truly honoring their past and looking to their future.  I am grateful for having had the chance to experience this tradition and for this generous family who have opened their home to me. They make this journey memorable in so many different ways. Happy Chuseok!

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving

  1. Monica, you amaze me! Your pictures perfectly exemplify for posts, which are so thorough and beautifully written.
    Stay well, my friend.

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  2. Monica – You look like you are truly enjoying your experience! It is so sweet that JY’s family included you in their holiday feast. Please say hello for me!

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      1. Hi Jinhoh- It was so nice to hear from you. I miss you & love you too! I can see through Mrs. Schnee’s pictures that your family has included her in many family events. That is so very kind of you to make her feel welcome in your country. She seems to be having the time of her life and soaking up every opportunity! I hope you are enjoying your new school and have found some new boys and girls to play with. Be a good boy and do well in school!
        Love from Roosevelt,
        Ms. Poole 🙂

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  3. Monica, this looks so incredibly wonderful! Thanks to you, I knew what Chuseok was when I got a note from the mom of one of my Korean students this week, saying they celebrate Chuseok. It was so exciting for me to know what that was!

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  4. Monica, Happy Chuseok to you and your lovely host family that so kindly shared their holiday with you! It is so interesting to see how the holiday is celebrated. Your writing and photos truly captured the essence of the holiday, but I am sure it was even more special in real time. Be well, and know we are all excitedly waiting for the next post!

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  5. Monica, I miss you! Your broad smile leading your duckling rainbow through the halls of CH and NBC never failed to boost my day. Now I have another boost – your blog! Although late to the party, I am thrilled to be here. My own first person knowledge of Korean culture is pretty much limited to H Mart so I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to tag along on your exquisite journey. The Korean people are lucky to have you, as are we. I am anxiously awaiting your next post!

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    1. Andrea, thanks for such a lovely comment and for following me! It means so much to know that you are enjoying it. I miss you across the hall and in the mornings when I come in through the MPR room. “See” you on the next post!

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  6. Hi Monica, I am visiting your site for the first time since your first 24 hours in Seoul. Thanks for sharing all the pictures.
    Even though I was born and raised in South Korea, I don’t think I had this “authentic” chuseok celebration myself 🙂 One little note about songpyeon… the key is to steam them on a bed of pine needles! It gives them a light aroma of pine.
    The word “song” means pine tree and “pyeon” is rice cake 🙂

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