Chuseok is the Korean version of American Thanksgiving—an important holiday when most locals leave for the countryside and grandma’s house to carry on a number of ancient traditions and most importantly to feast on abundant homemade delicacies.
If you are travelling to South Korea in mid to late September or early October you are just in time to observe Chuseok or the Harvest Moon Festival. Originally called Hangawi, the celebration falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, during the full moon. You are even luckier if you get invited to join a Korean family’s ancestral home on this memorable occasion. Expect a feast of traditional Korean dishes and bear witness as families make offerings to their ancestors. Two major traditions of the Chuseok are ‘Charye’ (memorial services at home to honour ancestors) and ‘Seongmyo’ (visit to the ancestral graves).
The Chuseok celebration can’t go on without a special festive treat called songpyeon. It’s a rice cake with sesame seeds, beans and other typical ingredients. These cakes are either left white or coloured pink, yellow, purple, or green. Hangwa is another cake-like cookie eaten during the festival. It’s made with rice flour, honey, fruit and roots. One more festive speciality is sindoju, a rice liquor made with freshly harvested rice.
Other traditions include the Ganggangsullae, a traditional Korean dance performed by women dressed in authentic silk clothing known as Hanbok. The dancers begin their performance in a circle holding hands. As the dance progresses, the shape transforms into other forms such as serpentine, several smaller circles, and others. The dancing is done to the music of a specially appointed singer.
Locals love playing games as part of the Chuseok celebration. Wrestling matches called Ssireum, archery contests, tug-of-war games, swinging games and much more are played during the celebration.