Jesasang, ceremonial table setting on Chuseok.
|Official name||Chuseok (추석, 秋夕)|
|Also called||Hangawi, Jungchu-jeol|
|Type||Cultural, religious (Buddhist, Confucian)|
|Significance||Celebrates the harvest|
|Observances||Visit to their family's home town, ancestor worship, harvest feasts with songpyeon and rice wines|
|Begins||14th day of the 8th lunar month|
|Ends||16th day of the 8th lunar month|
|2017 date||3–5 October|
|2018 date||23–25 September|
|2019 date||12-14 September|
Mid-Autumn Festival (in China and Vietnam)|
Tsukimi (in Japan)
|Original Korean name|
Chuseok (Hangul: 추석; 秋夕; [tɕʰu.sʌk̚]), literally "Autumn eve", once known as hangawi (Hangul: 한가위; [han.ɡa.ɥi]; from archaic Korean for "the great middle (of autumn)"), is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in North Korea and South Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. Like many other harvest festivals around the world, it is held around the autumn equinox, i.e. at the very end of summer or in early autumn.
As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon (Hangul: 송편) and rice wines such as sindoju and dongdongju. There are two major traditions related to Chuseok: Charye (ancestor memorial services at home) and Seongmyo (family visit to the ancestral graves).
According to popular belief, Chuseok originates from gabae (Hangul: 가배). Gabae started during the reign of the third king of the kingdom of Silla (57 BC ??AD 935), when it was a month-long weaving contest between two teams. On the day of Gabae, the team that had woven more cloth won and would be treated to a feast by the losing team. However, it is also said that Chuseok marks the day Silla won a great victory over the rival kingdom of Baekje. It is believed that weaving competitions, archery competitions, and martial arts demonstrations were held as part of the festivities.
Many scholars also believe Chuseok may originate from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon. New harvests are offered to local deities and ancestors, which means Chuseok may have originated as a worship ritual. In some areas, if there is no harvest, worship rituals are postponed, or in areas with no annual harvest, Chuseok is not celebrated.
In contemporary South Korea, on Chuseok, masses of people travel from large cities to their hometowns to pay respect to the spirits of their ancestors. People perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning. Then, they visit the tombs of their immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors. Harvest crops are attributed to the blessing of ancestors. Chuseok is commonly translated as "Korean Thanksgiving" in English.
Charye is one of the ancestral memorial rites celebrated during Chuseok, symbolising the returning of favours and honoring ancestors and past generations. The rite involves the gathering of families in holding a memorial service for their ancestors through the harvesting, preparation and presentation of special foods as offerings. The rite embodies the traditional view of spiritual life beyond physical death, respecting the spirits of the afterlife that now also serve to protect their descendants. The foods offered have traditionally varied across provinces depending on what was available, but commonly constitute of freshly harvested rice, rice cakes (songpyeon) and fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. The arrangement of the foods of Charye on the table are also notable: traditionally rice and soup are placed on the north and fruits and vegetables are placed on the south; meat dishes are served on the west and in the middle, and rice cake and some drinks such as makgeolli or soju are placed on the east. These details can vary across regions.
Seongmyo and Beolcho
One of the major foods prepared and eaten during the Chuseok holiday is songpyeon (Hangul: 송편; 松편), a Korean traditional rice cake which contains stuffing made with ingredients such as sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube, and honey. When making songpyeon, steaming them over a layer of pine-needles is critical. The word song in songpyeon means a pine tree in Korean. The pine needles not only contribute to songpyeon's aromatic fragrance, but also its beauty and taste.
Songpyeon is also significant because of the meaning contained in its shape. Songpyeon's rice skin itself resembles the shape of a full moon, but once it wraps the stuffing, its shape resembles the half-moon. Since the Three Kingdoms era in Korean history, a Korean legend stated that these two shapes ruled the destinies of the two greatest rival kingdoms, Baekje and Silla. During the era of King Uija of Baekje, an encrypted phrase, "Baekje is full-moon and Silla is half moon" was found on a turtle's back and it predicted the fall of the Baekje and the rise of the Silla. The prophecy came true when Silla defeated Baekje. Ever since, Koreans have believed a half-moon shape is an indicator of a bright future or victory. Therefore, during Chuseok, families gather together and eat half-moon-shaped Songpyeon under the full moon, wishing for a brighter future.
Another popular Korean traditional food that people eat during Chuseok is hangwa. It is an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns. Hangwa is made with rice flour, honey, fruit, and roots. People use edible natural ingredients to express various colors, flavors, and tastes. Because of its decoration and nutrition, Koreans eat hangwa not only during Chuseok, but also for special events, for instance, weddings, birthday parties, and marriages.
The most famous types of hangwa are yakgwa, yugwa, and dasik. Yakgwa is a medicinal cookie which is made of fried rice flour dough ball, and yugwa is a fried cookie that also refers to a flower. Dasik is a tea cake that people enjoy with tea.
A major element of Chuseok is the alcoholic beverages. Liquor drunk on Chuseok is called baekju (白酒, literally "white liquor") and nicknamed sindoju (新稻酒, literally "new rice liquor") as it is made of freshly harvested rice.
Kooksoondang, a maker of Korean traditional liquors, restored "Yihwaju," rice wine from the Goryeo era (918–1392), and "Songjeolju" that has been widely enjoyed by Joseon (1392–1910) aristocrats. Its "Jayang Baekseju" package comprises a variety of liquors ― Jayang Baekseju, Jang Baekseju, Baekokju ― that are claimed to enhance men's stamina.
History of Chuseok gifts
The Korean people started sharing daily necessities, such as sugar, soap or condiments, as Chuseok gifts in the 1960s. The gifts have changed since the Korean economy has developed. In the 1970s, Korean people had more options for Chuseok gifts; examples include cooking oil, toothpaste, instant coffee sets, cosmetics, television and rice cookers. People chose gift sets of fruit, meat and cosmetics in the 1980s. In the 1990s, people used gift vouchers for Chuseok. In the 21st century, more sophisticated gifts, such as sets of olive oil, natural vinegar and electronic devices have become the most popular option for Chuseok gifts.
Types of Chuseok gifts and prices
There are some extravagant gifts that can be purchased: one kilogram of wild pine mushrooms, which are expensive because they cannot be artificially grown, (560,000 won) US$480.27 and red ginseng products (1.98 million won) US$1698.11. However, the most exorbitantly priced gift is six bottles of wine at Lotte Department Store for a staggering (33 million won) US$28,301.89.
The gifts are typically small, simple, and related to food because Chuseok is a harvest festival. There is etiquette surrounding gift-giving practices.
If buying a gift for a boss or an older person, personal hygiene products may not be appropriate. Honey is always a welcome gift. Another popular gift is a dried salted croaker fish.
For a co-worker, friend, or someone of similar age, dried fruit has typically been gifted, especially persimmon, or gham. Buying gifts for friends and colleagues is uncommon.
A variety of folk games are played on Chuseok to celebrate the coming of autumn and rich harvest. Village folk dress themselves to resemble a cow or turtle, and go from house to house along with a nongak band playing music. Other common folk games played on Chuseok are archery, ssireum, tug-of-war, and juldarigi (Korean wrestling); folk games vary by region.
Ssireum (Hangul: 씨름) is the most popular Korean sport played during Chuseok, and contests are usually held during this holiday. Scholars have found evidence for ssireum's dating back to the Goguryeo dynasty, Ssireum is assumed to have 5000 years of history. Two players wrestle each other while holding onto their opponent's satba, a red and blue band. A player loses when his upper body touches the ground, and the winner becomes Cheonha Jangsa, Baekdu Jangsa, or Halla Jangsa, meaning "the most powerful". The winner gets a bull and 1 kg of rice as the prize. Due to its popularity among both the young and the old, ssireum contests are held more frequently, not limited to important holidays.
The Ganggangsullae(Hangul: 강강술래) dance is a traditional folk dance performed under the full moon in the night of Chuseok. Women wear Korean traditional dress, hanbok, make a big circle by holding hands, and sing a song while going around a circle. Its name, Ganggangsullae, came from the refrain repeated after each verse, and contains no actual meaning.
Juldarigi (Hangul: 줄다리기), or tug-of-war, was enjoyed by an entire village population. Two groups of people are divided into two teams representing the female and male forces of the natural world. The game is considered an agricultural rite to augur the results of the year's farming. If the team representing the female concept won, it was thought the harvest that year would be rich.
So-nori is a comedic performance in which people used a straw mat to disguise themselves as a cow and call from door to door for all to get together and share food.
Chicken Fight (Dak Sa Um)
Korean people used to watch chicken fights (Hangul: 닭싸움), and learned how chickens fought; a game inspired by such was invented.
To play the game, people are separated into two balanced groups. One must bend his or her leg up and hold it bent with the knee poking out. The players must then attack each other with their bent knees, having to eliminate them by making their feet touch the ground; the last player holding up his or her knee wins.
Hwatu, or Go-Stop (Hangul: 화투) is composed of 48 cards including 12 kinds. It originated from a Japanese card game called Hanafuda, and is the most popular card game played by Koreans today. The rules of the game and the term hwatu originated from Tujeon. Early hwatu was similar to Hanafuda, but was changed due to similarities with the latter. It went through a course that made it reduced by 4 base colors and thinner than before, spreading throughout to turn out goods on a mass-produced basis.
Chuseok in North Korea
Since Chuseok has been a traditional holiday since long before the division of Korea, people in North Korea also celebrate Chuseok. However, the ideology that divided Korea also caused some differences between Chuseok of North Korea and that of South Korea. Since the division, South Korea has adopted a westernized culture, so the way South Koreans enjoy the holiday is a typical way of enjoying holidays with family members. However, North Korea moved away from the traditional ways; in fact, North Korea did not celebrate Chuseok and other traditional holidays until the mid-1980s.
Though most North Koreans do not have any family gatherings during Chuseok, some, especially those in working classes, try to visit their ancestors's grave sites during Chuseok. However, social and economic issues in North Korea have been preventing visits. In addition, their extremely poor infrastructure, especially in terms of public transportation, make it almost impossible for people to visit grave sites and their families. In contrast to the poorly situated lower class North Koreans, middle and elite classes enjoy the holiday as they want, easily traveling wherever they want to go.
Dates for Chuseok on the Gregorian calendar
Chuseok is on the following days:
- 2000: September 12
- 2001: October 1
- 2002: September 21
- 2003: September 11
- 2004: September 28
- 2005: September 16
- 2006: October 6
- 2007: September 25
- 2008: September 14
- 2009: October 3
- 2010: September 22
- 2011: September 12
- 2012: September 30
- 2013: September 19
- 2014: September 8
- 2015: September 27
- 2016: September 15
- 2017: October 4
- 2018: September 24
- 2019: September 13
- 2020: October 1
- 2021: September 21
- 2022: September 10
- 2023: September 29
- 2024: September 17
- 2025: October 6
- 2026: September 25
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chuseok.|
- Chuseok on YouTube