Chuseok is a major harvest festival in both North and South Korea. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. Being a harvest festival, it has celebrated around the autumn equinox, that is, at the very end of summer.
Origin of Chuseok
Many believe that Chuseok originated from Gabe. Gabe was a festival that has started during the reign of the third king of the kingdom of Silla. It was a month-long weaving contest which has held between two teams, wherein the winner (the group that has woven the most) treated to a feast by the losing side. As a part of the festivities, archery competitions and even martial arts demonstrations have taken place.
Another origin story traces its roots back to an ancient shamanistic celebration of the harvest moon. Here new harvests have offered to deities and ancestors, thus making it a worship ritual.
Traditions and celebration of Chuseok
This is an ancestral memorial rite that has celebrated, symbolizing the return of favors and honoring the ancestors and past generations. Families gather together to hold a memorial service while presenting exceptional food as offerings to the ancestors. The offerings include freshly harvested rice, rice cakes, fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, and drinks like makgeolli (a type of rice wine) and soju, which have arranged symbolically.
Seongmyo and Beolcho
Seongmyo is the act of visiting the ancestral gravesite. And Beolcho is the act of removing weeds around the grave and cleaning of the same.
- Songpyeon: One of the essential dishes prepared during this festival, songpyeon, is a traditional rice cake. It contains stuffing made of a sesame seed, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, jujube, and honey. The transformation of the shape of this dish throughout the cooking process has considered symbolic and associated with the full moon and half-moon shape.
- Hangwa: Made with rice flour, honey, fruit, and roots, it is considered as an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns.
- Baekseju: One of the essential aspects of this festival are alcoholic beverages, and baekseju is one of them. Made of freshly harvested rice, its name translates to white liquor.
Gifts in Chuseok
The practice of gift-giving on this festival started as a means for people to share daily necessities like sugar, soap, or other condiments. This practice since then has evolved over the years into a more sophisticated one. Where even electronic devices have started featuring in the gifts. Chuseok gift sets have grown into a big business in Korea now.
Stemming from the older traditions of competitions and displays, the festival still hosts many folk games as a part of the festivities.
- Ssireum: Two players wrestle each other while holding onto their opponent’s satba (red and blue bands), A player loses when his upper body touched the ground.
- Taekkyon: One of the oldest Martial arts forms of Korea, it was initially a hand to hand fighting method, which then evolved into a more tamed version similar to a kicking game.
- Chicken fight (Dak Sa Um): To play the game, people are divided into two well balance groups. The players then bend one of their legs, holding it up with the knee pointing out, and attack the opposition with their bent knew. The players get eliminated if their feet touch the ground. The last player standing wins the game.
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