Chuseok 2012 추석

Chuseok (추석) is the Korean thanksgiving holiday to celebrate the harvest, and it is the biggest celebration in the Korean calendar. Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which this year was September 30th, and the day before and the day after are also given as holiday to allow city dwellers to visit their hometowns. Chuseok can also be known as Hangawi (한가위), which literally translates as the ‘ides of August’.

The origins of Chuseok are a little unclear, but many Koreans trace the holiday back to ancient worship of the moon. The full moon was considered a special and meaningful event, and so the harvest celebrations were always held on the day of a full moon. Even today it is traditional to make a wish to the ‘Moon Rabbit‘ on Chuseok.

Dancing beneath the harvest full moon

As with Seollal (Lunar New Year in February), Chuseok sees a mass exodus out of Seoul and Korea’s other main cities, as everyone heads to their hometowns in the countryside to visit their relatives and pay their respects to the spirits of their ancestors. For married women, that means visiting their husband’s family and relatives. In the days running up to Chuseok many Koreans tend the tombs of their ancestors, and on the morning of Chuseok a ceremony (차례) is held, offering traditional food and drink to the deceased. A good harvest is often attributed to the blessing of one’s ancestors.

Chuseok 차례 ceremonial table

Food is an important part of Chuseok, and can be very stressful for the women of the family as they have to prepare so much food. Japchae (잡채 is a dish made from clear noodles stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables and sometimes meat), songpyeon (송편 small, crescent-shaped rice cakes filled with honey, red bean paste or chestnut paste steamed on a bed of pine needles), seasonal fruits, baekju (a kind of rice wine), and freshly harvested rice are among the most popular Chuseok foods.

In addition to the 차례 ceremony, typical Chuseok activities include wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), playing folk games, singing, and dancing beneath the full moon.

Happy Chuseok everyone!

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A Korean wedding

Just two weeks after landing in Korea, Nath and I somehow qualified for an invitation to his boss’ sister’s wedding. As with many Korean weddings, it took place in a ‘wedding hall‘; a building designed purely for wedding ceremonies, complete with high ceilings, white drapes and extravagant chandeliers.

It was much more informal than any English wedding I’ve been to (all three of them that is!). As we arrived guests from several different weddings were milling around in the foyer, and people wandered in and out of the ceremony room even during the vows.

The mothers of the bride and groom, and the bridesmaids wore traditional Korean hanbok but the bride wore a big, beautiful, white princess dress. After a lot of bowing between the bride and groom and their parents, the ceremony finally got underway.

In many ways it was quite similar to a typical Western wedding, but what surprised us the most was how quickly it was over. The whole ceremony took 25 minutes, then we were led into the buffet hall as the next couple’s wedding began. I hate to say it but there was something slightly impersonal and conveyor belt-esque about the whole thing.

During the meal the bride, groom and their parents appeared on stage (to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune…) to cut the cake and say thank you before disappearing off to start their honeymoon on Jeju island.