Chuseok, otherwise known as Korean Thanksgiving, isn't exactly like the American holiday, but it is very similar. Being a harvest festival, it carries a lot of the traditions and values that the American version does, but is known to have a deeper, more spiritual meaning. Family gatherings are held, food is shared, and games are played with those you care for. It’s pretty similar, right? However, Chuseok extends over multiple days making it a long holiday that is filled to the brim with joy, love, and laughter.
Below, we will take a deeper look into when Chuseok is celebrated and what this unique and deeply special holiday includes.
Chuseok is one of the most important holidays celebrated in Korea. It is held from the 14th to the 16th day of the 8th lunar month (typically September on the Gregorian calendar) in South Korea, while in North Korea it is only observed on the 15th day. It is a harvest festival that honors ancestors and thanks them for a successful harvest. The celebration also includes “Charye”, a memorial service held in the home for family members that have passed, “Seongmyo”, a visit to the family’s ancestral graves, and “Beolcho”, time spent tidying the graves and removing debris.
Chuseok translates to "Autumn Eve'' in Korean. The festival was once known as 'Hangwai', the historic Korean term for the middle of autumn. Chuseok has been celebrated for nearly two centuries and gives individuals the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and celebrate those who can no longer be present.
After the ceremony, families gather to share food and stories of their ancestors, cementing family ties and expressing gratitude for all they have been given. Common Chuseok foods prepared include various traditional Korean rice cakes, such as songpyeon, which is made from rice flour and can be filled with sesame seeds, honey, chestnuts, or other sweet ingredients. Other dishes served at the feast include bulgogi (marinated beef), jeon (a fritter made from battered and fried seasoned meat, fish, vegetables, etc.), and tteokguk (rice cake soup).
While there is no shortage of traditional games that are played during Chuseok festivities, some of the most popular include Tuho (Arrow Throwing), Neolttwigi (Seesaw Jumping), and Yut Nori. Tuho involves throwing arrows into a narrow 2-meter-wide jar. Neolttwigi is a see-saw game where two people sit on either side of a long board and then challenge each other to jump higher and higher. Yut Nori, possibly the most famous traditional Korean "board game", is played with stitched cloth, yut sticks, a small bowl, and small tokens.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving in the US, it seems appropriate to talk about how other countries give thanks. Although it occurred in September this year, Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving that spans over 3 days and is an important holiday in Korea. Chuseok consists of making platefuls of food and coming together with family members to remember ancestors to show gratitude for the past and future. Every aspect has a significant meaning as Koreans reunite to eat, play, and remember.
Causing the biggest holiday traffic jam, Koreans leave the cities and return to their ancestors’ villages to be with family. The day is filled with rituals, incredible food, gifts, and plenty of games for the whole family.
Unlike a typical American Thanksgiving that is filled with a lot of eating and resting, Chuseok is quite active. Families take part in games and dances to celebrate the harvest and give thanks. Ganggangsulae is a traditional dance done by women and consists of joining hands in a circle formation under the full moon. They sing and dance for hours, picking up speed along the way. Jultagi, or tightrope walking, is another popular tradition as well as Ssireum. Similar to American football on Thanksgiving Day, Ssireum is a wrestling event that attracts countless viewers to witness the ultimate fight to win a prized bull.
This jampacked holiday wouldn’t be complete without a few gifts for loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Although every family celebrates in their own way, Chuseok remains a very significant celebration for all Koreans. The three days of eating, playing, and remembering has and will continue to be a special way to give thanks. With so many au pairs from around the world, it’s important to learn and appreciate other cultures.
Chuseok is a celebration of gratitude, family, and tradition – something we can all appreciate! Having an au pair from South Korea offers a unique cultural experience for families that is both fun and educational, including the celebration of Chuseok. By sharing their culture through celebrations like Chuseok, a South Korean au pair can introduce children to the unique traditions of Korean food, music, and language and help them to develop an understanding and appreciation of the culture. As the best au pair agency, we are proud to connect cultures from across the globe! Contact us today to learn how an au pair can enrich your family's lives!