Chuseok, the “Harvest Moon Festival,” is one of the three biggest holidays in Korea. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, which usually falls in September or October. Chuseok is a time for families to give thanks for the year’s harvest.
Traditionally, Chuseok is celebrated over a three-day period. Koreans celebrate this holiday in their hometowns. But first, they have to get to their hometowns. ... And getting there isn’t easy! With most of the country’s population traveling, traffic is incredible. Roads resemble parking lots as cars and buses creep along, bumper to bumper. A trip that usually takes two hours may take 10, 12, or more. Some destinations are accessible by train or plane, but tickets sell out within hours of going on sale.
> Once weary travelers reach their hometowns, there’s work to be done. Family members spend the day before Chuseok preparing traditional foods for the feast. The most famous of these is songpyeon. To make this special rice cake, rice from the new harvest is ground into flour. It is then boiled and kneaded to make dough. The women (and often the children) in the family shape pieces of this dough in circles. They stuff it with such things as honey, sesame seeds, dried fruit, chestnuts, and bean paste, then fold the circles into half-moon shapes. Finally, they arrange the songpyeon on a bed of freshly-picked pine needles and steam.
> On the morning of Chuseok, family members put on their best outfits – usually traditional hanbok – and honor their ancestors with a feast of foods from the new harvest. The feast includes rice, rice wine, and songpyeon, along with kimchi nuts, fruit, and fish.
Families often visit the tombs of their ancestors to pay tribute. First, they tend to the graves. They cut grass, pull weeds, and clean up the surrounding area. Then comes the final Chuseok ceremony. Family members perform a formal bow at the graves to express gratitude to their ancestors. They may also leave food offerings.
Once the ancestral ceremonies are over, families eat and celebrate together. Older family members often tell stories to the younger ones. Later in the day, families may play traditional games. The day often ends with a special dance known as “Gang-gang-su-lae.” This circle dance supposedly originated in the 16th century, when a Korean admiral stopped a Japanese invasion by ordering women to dress in military uniforms and dance in circles around fires in the evening. Japanese forces saw the dancers and were tricked into believing the area was well-defended.
Wonder why the word "Chuseok" is spelled so many different ways? "Chuseok" is an English transliteration of a Korean word. The Korean language uses a unique system of writing known as Hangul. There are various accepted systems of transliterating the Korean word "Chuseok" into English characters, but these systems yield slightly different spellings. Common spellings include Chuseok, Chusok, and Ch'usok.