Global Holidays at Home: Thankful for Korean Chuseok

In America, we know Thanksgiving as a time for turkey, football, family, and the annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life. But this American-rooted holiday isn’t celebrated in many countries around the world. One country that has its own tradition of giving thanks for the harvest is Korea. Today, the holiday is known as Chuseok and lasts for a three-day weekend including the “pre” and “post” days.

As with most Asian holidays, the date of Chuseok changes according to the lunar calendar. It’s always on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which is usually sometime in September. This year, Chuseok runs from October 4–6, 2017.

Ancient Origins and Rituals

The original name of the holiday, “hangawi,” means “the great middle” and refers to the festival’s date in the middle of autumn.

Like many holidays around the world, the origins of Chuseok are disputed. Was it originally celebrated to give thanks for the harvest, as mandated by ancient religious codes? Or was it a festival in honor of the ruler of ancient Korea after winning a great victory over an enemy? We might never know, but for now it seems like the “giving thanks” aspect remains central.

Sitting down with family to eat the bounty of the harvest is the holiday’s oldest tradition, but it’s also a time to give thanks for family members who are no longer with us. Koreans attend memorial services for ancestors and visit ancestral graves on this auspicious day before settling down to a nice meal and giving gifts to family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.

Stylish Duds and Studs

Traditional clothes and games are a big part of the Chuseok holiday. The chuseokbim is a term for new clothes prepared especially for the holiday. Your kids can pick out a special outfit to set aside for the special day, or wear a variation on a traditional Korean hanbok, an A-line dress with a short, wide-sleeved cardigan.

Make your kids their own hanboks out of paper. Tape two pieces of paper together, leaving a hole in the center for your child’s head. Tape in the sides to create arms, and let the bottom of the paper flair out. Create a wide-sleeved cape of another bright color with a new sheet – or two – of paper. The tissue paper should give your child a feel for the stiff bulkiness of the ancient party clothes, making her thankful for the ease of modern fashion!

Food at the Forefront

Get your kids into the spirit of Chuseok by giving the traditional Korean gift of food. Kids can give their teachers and classmates something for the festival and write a little note of gratitude to go with it. Typically, Koreans will give food as a gift, which is especially apropos for the harvest tradition. Apples and fresh harvest veggies would be a nice surprise for anyone. Get a little more Korean by giving the ever-popular gift of Spam.

Teach your kids how to make the most common Chuseok dish, songpyeon. In Korea,  this dish is made on the day before Chuseok, and it’s a family affair. So get the whole team involved!

Mix the rice powder dough and divide it into small sections, the size of ping pong balls. Work a drop of food coloring into each ball for vibrant colors. Each family member can choose a filling and make several balls with it. Typically, Koreans use red bean paste, sesame seeds, or chestnuts. You can also try applesauce, peanut butter, or jam if you want to tone down the exoticism.

Then, when the filling is covered in dough, roll the ball between your palms to make it as flat and smooth as possible. Then, steam the balls in water with pine needles and enjoy the fragrant, delicious flavor of songpyeon!

Cook up some Spam for the Korean-American version, or go straight to the source for some typical Korean fare. Japchae, a dish made with thin, sweet potato glass noodles smothered in sesame oil and sauteed with vegetables (and sometimes meat), is festive and delicious. For a meatier main dish, make marinated Korean beef, called bulgogi.

Since rice is a big part of the Korean diet and a staple of the harvest season, get creative with rice dishes and try something new. Fruit is also a large part of the holiday. Try to use whatever is in season to preserve the “harvest” aspect of the holiday. It might be apples, Asian pears, or grapes.

Family over Everything

Family is the other staple of the Korean diet: Without family members to nourish each other, who would survive? Invite your relatives for a Chuseok feast, or – at the very least – call them on the phone. You can also tell stories or share memories of family members who have passed away. A family visit to Grandma’s grave also wouldn’t be out of place.

Play the “thanks game” and have each of your children go around the table and tell each of the family members gathered why they’re thankful for them. It’s a great exercise in appreciation, and something the older relatives always love. Of course, when the kids are finished, it’s time for parents, aunts, and uncles to join in.

Will you celebrate Korean Chuseok this year? What part are you most excited about? Share with us!

Tags : celebrations   holidays from around the world, global citizen   chuseok   korean holidays   asian holidays   

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