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Chuseok : Traditional Autumn FestivalTips | Guide for Foregin Students and Freshmen

1. Introduction of Chuseok

The Chuseok, one of the greatest traditional holidays in Korea, falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month which is on October 3rd this year. Chuseok is often referred to as Korean Thanksgiving Day. Many Koreans have traditionally visited their ancestral hometowns and feasted on the abundance from the harvest. The fields are painted gold with ripe grain and trees are ripen with fruits. The richness and abundant nature of this harvest day is described in an old saying: “Let it be no more or less but just like Hangawi all 365 days of the year.” The Han means great and the kawi means middle, and together they mean a holiday falls on August 15th according to the lunar calendar.

People living in cities return to their hometowns to observe Chuseok. The expressways generally become a huge parking lot at the beginning and end of the holiday. The weak point of the Chuseok is the heavy traffic jam. It takes more than 10 hours by car between Seoul and Busan. Airplane and train tickets are usually reserved several months in advance.

2. Origins of Chuseok

Chuseok’s history dates back to the ancient times in Korea. Historically and according to popular belief, it originates from Gabae starting during the reign of King Euri of the kingdom of Silla. He wanted to help the weaving industry grow, so he organized a national weaving contest between two teams. The losers had to prepare certain foods for the winners.

Other scholars also believe Chuseok may originate from ancient religious celebrations of the harvest moon. New harvests are offered to gods and ancestors. It means Chuseok may have originated as a worship ritual. In some areas, if there is no harvest, worship rituals are postponed. What is worse, Chuseok is not celebrated in areas with no annual harvest.

3. Traditional Customs

On Chuseok, Koreans prepare for a table with various meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and newly harvested grain to hold charye which is ancestor-memorial services. This is a ritual to report about the year’s harvests to the ancestors and also give thanks for the ancestors’ concern and support. One or two days before the Chuseok, the women of the house often stay up cooking for the rites. The men help with the preparations, while sharing stories about the ancestors, and passing to the younger generations.

When the ritual table is set, it is important to double check if the different dishes have been arranged correctly. There are strict and complicated guidelines for setting up the table: Red fruits are placed to the east, while white rice cakes and cookies are placed to the west. The fish is placed with the head to the east. The first row of the table is lined with fruits, and the last dish of that row should be saved for hangwa, Korean cookies. The cooked dishes should be arranged meat first, then fish, then vegetables. The elders of the family usually look over the table to make sure everything is placed just right.

Traditionally, the charye is held at the home of the eldest son is designated host of the ritual. At the time of the ritual, participants change into formal clothing and stand at their spots after washing their hands. A folding screen, table, candles and incense have been set up, all participants do a deep head-to-the-floor bow. After the bowing, the food is offered to the ancestors in ritualized movements. When the ritual is over, everyone present sits down for breakfast, then packs small portions of the ritual food to take to the ancestral graves. At the grave, a simpler version of the ritual is performed. And they trim plants and clean the area around the grave. These days, it is common for families to visit the graves before Chuseok, to avoid the huge traffic.


4. Folk Games


Many folk games are played on Chuseok to celebrate the coming of Autumn and rich harvest. After the rituals, people play traditional games such as Ssireum, a Korean traditional form of wrestling. Ssirum is somewhat similar to Japanese sumo wrestling, with two opponents trying to wrestle each other in a sandy ring. The one who throws his opponent to the ground wins a point.

Yut is Korean Four-Stick game. Four sticks, flat on one side and curved on the other, are tossed in the air. The combination of flat and curved faces pointing upwards determines the number of spaces to move along a board. The first person or team to travel all the way around the board wins.

Ganggangsullae, a circle dance under the bright moon, is one of the most popular forms of Chuseok folk entertainment. Traditionally, village women assembled in a large circle, held hands, and went round and round while chanting a song. The dance begins slowly and gradually increases speed as the song quickens. The leading singer starts the song and the rest of the women answer by chanting “ganggangsullae” or “ganggangsuwollae.” And so Koreans gather under the bright moon, a symbol of peace and wealth, to share the rewards of a abundant crop and wish for fame and fortune.


5. Folk Costume

Koreans weaved cloth with hemp and arrowroot and raised silkworms to produce silk.Once upon a time men wore jeogori(jacket), baji(trousers), and durumagi(overcoat) with a hat, belt and pair of shoes. Women wore jeogori(short jacket) with two long ribbons, a full length and high-waist wrap-around skirt called chima, a durumagi(overcoat), Korean socks, and rubber shoes. This attire, is called “Hanbok”, has been handed down in the same form for men and women for hundreds of years with little change except for the length of the jeogori and chima.

Ahn Seong-Bin  ahnbin1205@changwon.ac.kr

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