What is Chuseok? The festival that thanks wise ancestors and their plentiful harvest

Updated on Sep 21, 2021 12:49 PM IST  |  99.4K
   
CIIPHER in Hanbok; Picture Courtesy: News1
CIIPHER in Hanbok; Picture Courtesy: News1
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As K-Pop fans, we always see our favourite idols like BTS, MONSTA X, BLACKPINK, EXO, etc send in a video message for Chuseok every year but are you aware of the festival and why do they celebrate it? Let’s get into the history, relevance and traditions that come with this beautiful festival filled with colourful hanboks, fragrant songpyeons and graceful dances!

Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day, is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea. Family members from near and far come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors. In 2021, the day of Chuseok falls on September 21. As the day before and the day after are also part of the holiday, this year’s holiday period is from September 18 to September 22, including the weekend. “Farmers in Korea harvest rice, the most important food in Korea [and East Asia], only once, and that’s during Chuseok. It’s because the weather is so good,” says Kim Hye-won, director of The Cultural Studies Centre of East Asia.The origins of Chuseok can be traced back to Korea’s past as an agrarian society. Chuseok is also known as Hangawi, which means the 15th day of August, according to the lunar calendar. 

On this day, a full harvest moon appeared in the sky and families gathered to enjoy time together and give thanks to their ancestors for the plentiful harvest. The women of the family also prepared an ancestral memorial ceremony called charye by filling a table with food including newly harvested rice and fruit. After setting up food – usually tea, vegetables, soups, rice and meat – on a raised platform, family members gather together to bow several times. This is done – in a particular order depending on gender and age – to give offerings as thanks for the year past and wish for luck for the coming year. 

Another traditional custom of Chuseok is seongmyo, or visit to the ancestral graves. Seongmyo is an old tradition that is still carried out to show respect and appreciation for family ancestors. During seongmyo, family members remove weeds that have grown around the graves and pay their respects to the deceased with a simple memorial service.

songpyeon

The dishes that are presented during Chuseok are mouth-wateringly delicious! A sweet yet savoury traditional Korean rice cake stuffed with fillings such as sesame seeds, honey, chestnut paste and red bean paste is known as songpyeon. “Song” means pine tree; after the rice cake is filled, it is steamed in a layer of pine needles. This creates a pattern on the outer layer and leaves a refreshing scent. Although Chuseok is celebrated during a full moon, songpyeon is folded in a half-moon shape to symbolise the sweetness of the future even after the festival has passed. 

songpyeon_1

Besides food, Koreans take part in various traditional cultural activities such as Ganggangsullae, which is a traditional folk dance that was initially performed to bring about a fruitful harvest. It is a colourful routine that involves a group of women wearing Korea’s national dress, the hanbok. They dance, hand in hand, in a circle while singing the nostalgic tune that is related to the dance. Variations are often added, with the women creating shapes or taking turns to dance in the middle. 

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This three day festival is always celebrated with gusto in the village homes with large families, steaming hot piles of food, beautiful music and traditional yet poised dances. Even though humans are dynamic in nature, we are also creatures of habit. But the habits that bring smiles, filled stomachs and families closer are worth keeping, right? 

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How does your country celebrate harvest? Share your piece of history with Pinkvilla in the comments below. 

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