Happy Chuseok (Hangawi)

There's something to love about traditions. I'm a bit old fashioned this way. I find traditions and rituals very comforting.

I often wonder what, if any, rituals we might include from our child's culture into our lives. The Man and I have co-opted other rituals and traditions from other places and made them our own, so it makes sense to us to add in a few from the birth country of our child too.

Chuseok seems like one of those rituals that was tailor-made for us. It's spiritual without being religious. Pays homage to the past while acknowledging the gifts of the present. It's about family and celebrating your ancestors. And certainly the fact that it centers around food and thankfulness are key elements that appeal to us.

Here is where my knowledge of this Korean tradition gets a bit bookwormish. I've read all about this holiday via the world wide interweb, but that's it. Hopefully one day we can celebrate this lovely holiday with someone who has actually experienced it first hand.

Chuseok is the Korean version of Thanksgiving and the nation's biggest holiday. Most people make a pilgrimage to their home towns and families celebrate this time together. This year's celebration is September 21-23 and according to the Korea Times, every bus, plane and train out of Seoul is sold out!

Evening Prayers
image from flickr/bhophoto
At the very center of this holiday is family. Koreans were traditionally agrarian and this was a time to thank their ancestors for bountiful fall harvests and share their riches with family and friends. Traditional activities are to visit the graves of the family's departed and maintain the grave sites; holding memorial services for ancestors; playing games including Korean wrestling; and for the head of the household to buy everyone a new outfit.

A blogger at Seoul Eats describes the holiday like this:
"Chuseok is the Korean version of Thanksgiving. During this holiday, the family gives thanks to their ancestors by welcoming the spirits into their houses to taste the ethereal flavors of the year's harvest. This may sound superstitious, but the real intention is to commemorate the departed. Because without our ancestors, literally, we wouldn’t exist. This is a family holiday and to be invited to a family's Chuseok celebration is a very special honor. Basically, the family is accepting the guest into their family to not only meet the living relatives that attend, but also the spirits that have passed."
Be sure to read the rest of the excellent post which describes the traditions of one family regarding food preparation and presentation. (Interesting trivia fact: foods are prepared somewhat blander than typical--without strong flavors of garlic or chili pepper common in Korean foods--which are believed to offend the ancestors.) Foods are placed in a prescribed manner on a low table for the departed. Here's a description of the ceremony:
"The ceremony is a beautiful progression to behold and one that has significance needs explanation to be understood. Koreans believe their ancestors live a mirrored existence, so the table settings of the rice bowl, soup, and chopsticks and spoon are the opposite from the living. The first pouring of rice wine is to welcome the ancestor into their home, the second pour is to say, "enjoy the food" and the third is to say good-bye and to go in peace. During the ceremony no living creature is allowed to be killed because- not even a fly- because it could be the spirit of the ancestor that has arrived to enjoy the meal. Koreans believe their ancestors will devour the spirit of the food but could be offended by strong flavors, so the feast is prepared as simply and naturally as possible. Everything red on the table is to the west and everything white to the east. The tops of the fruit is pared off on the end so the visiting ancestors can easily enjoy the food."

Special foods are often prepared, including the most traditional item, songpyeon (rice cake). Check out Maangchi's blog post for excellent directions on making this! More details about the foods traditionally eaten at Chuseok are found here at One Fork, One Spoon.

All of this sounds quite amazing. It makes me start to think what type of Chuseok ritual we can create for our family?

AsiaOne News: Men doing bigger share of Chuseok Chores (so many comments I could make here..)
Ask a Korean: How to hold jesa (a memorial ceremony for the dead)
Visit Korea: Chuseok-Korean Thanksgiving Day (history, traditions and food)
Korean Class 101: Korean Culture Class-Chuseok


  1. As always, you never fail to educate me :) This is wonderful. I'm going to a Korean market today to see what I can find to celebrate!

  2. Chusok is a lot of fun. If you would like to celebrate with a korean adoption group, families through korean adoption (FTKA) Madison is holding ours in a few weeks. You are welcome to come check it out! www.ftkamadison.blogspot.com You can join the group to attend this event for $12.50...and get some amazing Korean food, listen to a Korean drumming group, try some Korean games, and the best part (in my opinion) is meeting families formed through adoption, from Korea.

    Just a thought, if you are interested...

  3. Fabulous post! Our tradition here is to make Jap Chae (because it is Spencer's fave)...and we try to get some yummy goodies at the market as well. As Spencer gets older, we'll probably start playing traditional Korean games as well. Right now, he just throws the cards or sticks *at* us. Sigh. Oh, and educating him on the background and meaning of the holiday, of course.

  4. Yvonne, thanks for the tip! Checking our schedules...

  5. I love Chuseok too. To me, the key to knowing yourself is understanding how the people, places and events of your past influence who you are today. My kids are still too young to grasp what Chuseok is all about, but as they get older I see it as a wonderful opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we're going, both individually and as a family and to be express our gratitude for the people who have helped us get there.

  6. I've never heard of that before at all. It sounds really neat and something I'd like to look more into to try and use with my family, although we aren't Korean.

  7. Will you be celebrating this year? Now that the babe is home I feel like we don't have enough time to give this holiday what it deserves, so it will have to be pre-made bolgogi for a couple years. I'll have to look into the links you've provided, though - nice!

  8. Very cool! I think it would be awesome to bring your child up with traditions from their culture while learning more yourselves. It sounds like a wonderful holiday too!

    Happy ICLW #115

  9. Seems to be a lovely tradition !
    Happy ICLW


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