South Koreans to celebrate Chuseok from Sept. 20-22

South Koreans to celebrate Chuseok from Sept. 20-22

by ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

Chuseok, one of the most important holidays for Koreans, is just around the corner. Chuseok literally means “night with best autumn moonlight” and for us, it is a day as rich and relaxed as its poetic name.

This year, Chuseok will be observed September 20 - 22. The long holiday usually means Koreans are off from work and will head to their hometowns to visit relatives to partake in ritual ceremonies and a family dinner. The holiday is a celebration of the harvest and signifies a type of homecoming to memorialize our ancestors.

Every year, this means a fierce competition for train tickets similar to trying to snag a concert ticket to a popular band or pop singer. However, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to place a damper on the usual mass exodus.

For Chuseok, Koreans exchange gifts which are usually Hanwoo, red ginseng, dried persimmon, and SPAM canned meat. In 2020, hygiene kits featuring hand sanitizer, alcohol swabs, hand soap and facemasks became a hot Chuseok gift.

Aside from gifts, the holiday is also a time for activities that allow us to reflect on our relatives who have passed. Charye is a memorial service honoring our ancestors. This service is usually held at home in the living room or a large room, and usually begins between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. on the day of Chuseok. Back in the day, older relatives usually wore hanbok, traditional Korean dress, but nowadays most wear casual clothes.


Charye

After Charye, we have special Chuseok foods made on the eve of the holiday. These include songpyeon, half-moon-shaped rice cakes, and rice wine, set on the table in a certain manner. Families gather around the table to remember their ancestors, bow and then the Chuseok feast begins. My family usually has jeon, a type of fried Korean pancake, and japchae, Korean fried glass noodles, and other Korean dishes at our dinner table.


songpyeon

A second traditional ceremony, Seongmyo, is held when families visit ancestral graves and help clear and clean the gravesites of weeds and debris. A simple rite table is prepared, and we bow again to show respect to the deceased. During Chuseok, the cemeteries are filled with people and many cars.

Childhood memories
As a child, Chuseok meant my elder relatives would give me pocket money and I’d get to see my cousins whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I would look forward to this more than showing respect to my ancestors at the memorial service.

In particular, playing traditional games such as Yut Nori with all of my family gathered around after the ceremony, was one of the great pleasures that I couldn’t miss.


Yut Nori

To foreigners Yut Nori may seem like a complicated game, but it’s actually quite simple involving a large amount of strategy. The game uses a cloth gameboard and sticks and is won when one team or player brings the sticks “home” on the gameboard.

Families huddled together, shouting loudly and wishing for a certain score was a common spectacle back then. The competition and cheering for fellow team members made for a great evening spent bonding together and having fun.

In recent years, the plans for Chuseok have changed for my family as we’re all spread out. From my early-teens on, my family and I started to see less and less of each other on Chuseok, meaning no more Yut Nori.

And, it’s not just my family that has abandoned this tradition. South Koreans are starting to lose their ties with distant relatives.

Although Charye, the memorial rite, is still a must for most families, more and more people are going on family trips without doing any of the worship rituals. Or, as a compromise, some families will hold the memorial service before Chuseok and enjoy the holidays freely.

Last year, I spent the traditional holidays away from my family to protect our health. Thought the situation is getting a little better, Chuseok will still not be at its full potential this year either. Travel restrictions are slowly getting lifted and I’m happy that I’ll be able to see my parents for this year’s holiday and enjoy the gifts of Spam and the delicious feast I’ve grown accustomed to. I hope the next year’s Chusoek story will be filled with more pleasure and hope instead of the things related to the Coronavirus.

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