Chuseok is the most celebrated holiday in South Korea along with Seollal. Korean families get together to celebrate this traditional holiday.
Known as Korean Thanksgiving internationally, Chuseok is a joyful holiday for Koreans. Let’s find out all you need to know about the Korean Thanksgiving.
On This Post
- What Is Chuseok?
- What Does “Chuseok” Mean?
- When Is Chuseok?
- History of Chuseok
- How to Say “Happy Chuseok” in Korean?
- What Are Chuseok Traditions?
- What Is Popular Chuseok Food?
- Chuseok Games and Activities
- Chuseok Gifts
- How Can International Visitors and Foreigners Enjoy Chuseok?
- More Information about Chuseok in Modern Days
- Additional Questions
What Is Chuseok?
Chuseok is a Korean holiday for Koreans to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and to celebrate the abundance of food with family.
Chuseok as Korean Thanksgiving
Because both Thanksgiving Day in other countries and Chuseok celebrate and appreciate the successful harvest, many foreigners consider Chuseok as Korean Thanksgiving Day.
What Does “Chuseok” Mean?
Chuseok is one of the two biggest traditional holidays in South Korea. The name Chuseok (추석, 秋夕) means literally an evening in autumn.
Korean Thanksgiving has another name, Hangawi (한가위). This means the great middle of autumn. Koreans say Chuseok more often than Hangawi, but they are the exactly same.
When Is Chuseok in 2023?
In 2024, Chuseok is September 17.
Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Because Koreans celebrate this holiday according to the lunar calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar changes every year.
For your information, these are the dates of Chuseok in the next five years.
- 2025: October 6 (Mon)
- 2026: September 25 (Fri)
- 2027: September 15 (Wed)
- 2028: October 3 (Tue)
- 2029: September 22 (Sat)
Chuseok is a long holiday in South Korea. The holiday typically lasts for three days.
History of Chuseok
The origin of Chuseok dates back over a thousand years. The holiday has a deep root in Korea’s agricultural traditions, folklore, and cultural heritage.
According to Samguk Sagi, which is the oldest surviving chronicle of Korean history, Chuseok originates from Silla Kingdom’s tradition, Gabae. King Yuri of Silla Kingdom divided young women in the capital of Seorabeol (currently Gyeongju) into two groups. He appointed two princesses to lead each group to weave the cloth.
Two groups competed for a month. On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which is Hangawi, the winning group was rewarded, and they all enjoyed singing and dancing.
During Joseon Dynasty, it was a national ceremony led by the king. In modern history, Chuseok was designated as a National Holiday in 1949.
How to Say “Happy Chuseok” in Korean?
On Seollal, “새해 복 많이 받으세요 /sae-hae bok ma-ni ba-deu-se-yo/” is the traditional greeting. But, there are no specific greetings for Chuseok.
The most common Chuseok greeting would be “추석 잘 보내세요 /chu-seok jal bo-nae-se-yo/,” meaning “have a good Chuseok.”
Some also say “풍성한 한가위 되세요 /pung-seong-han han-ga-wi doe-se-yo/,” which means “have a prosperous Hangawi.” I would say this sounds a bit formal.
By the way, there is a very famous saying about this holiday in Korea: “더도 말고 덜도 말고 한가위만 같아라 /deo-do mal-go deol-do mal-go han-ga-wi-man ga-ta-ra/.”
This phrase means wishing every day is just like Chuseok, not more not less. The saying connotates that Chuseok is the happiest time of the year thanks to the abundance of food and people can relax and celebrate. This is not a greeting, but you will hear it quite often around this time.
Related Page: Learning Korean
What Are Chuseok Traditions?
Along with its long history, the traditions and customs of Korean Thanksgiving have changed. However, there are some of the traditions Koreans keep and pass on.
1. Charye (차례)
Families gather and perform ancestral rituals at their homes or ancestral graves to honor deceased family members. This involves setting up a special table with various offerings like rice cakes, fruits, and other foods.
2. Seongmyo (성묘)
People visit the graves of their ancestors to pay respects and perform rituals, including cleaning and maintaining the grave sites.
3. Beolcho (벌초)
Normally a few days (or several days) before Chuseok, people visit their ancestors’ graves and maintain them clean and neat. They remove the weeds and clean the area as well. This custom is called Beolcho.
4. Wearing Hanbok or Chuseokbim (추석빔)
Chuseokbim originally meant a new hanbok for Chuseok. Nowadays, the tradition has changed and not many people buy a new hanbok solely for the holiday.
And yet, many people wear hanbok for Chuseok. You can see a lot of Korean entertainers wearing hanbok on Korean TV shows during the holidays.
What Is Popular Chuseok Food?
Chuseok is the celebration of an abundance of the harvest. Koreans have enjoyed a variety of traditional foods on this holiday for generations.
Foods for Korean Thanksgiving are traditionally cooked with freshly harvested ingredients thanks to the season. That’s why they are especially appreciated.
Some foods are specifically for Korean Thanksgiving and some are usual guests on any Korean holidays.
1. Songpyeon (송편)
Songpyeon is the Chuseok food. It is a symbol of this holiday along with the full moon.
Songpyeon is a traditional Korean rice cake made with glutinous rice and various fillings like sesame seeds, red bean paste, and chestnuts. Families come together to make these rice cakes. Traditionally, it was steamed over pine needles, but not many Koreans cook in this way anymore.
2. Toranguk (토란국)
Toranguk is a Korean soup made with taro and beef brisket. Taro is toran in Korean. Traditionally, it has been a soup for Chuseok, but it is not as popular as before.
3. Jeon (전)
Jeon refers to a variety of Korean pancakes. They are made by coating ingredients like vegetables, seafood, or meat in a flour and egg batter and then frying them.
Jeon is not only for Chuseok but other Korean holidays as well. Popular jeon dishes for Korean Thanksgiving include dongtaejeon (pollock), hobakjeon (Korean zucchini), and yukjeon (beef).
4. Hangwa (한과)
Hangwa refers to traditional Korean sweets made from rice, honey, and various nuts. Popular hangwa includes yakgwa (약과) and yugwa (유과).
5. Japchae (잡채)
Japchae is a stir-fried noodle dish. It is made with sweet potato glass noodles and a variety of vegetables seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. It is a popular Korean dish for any event including holidays, birthday meals, etc.
6. Galbi jjim (갈비찜)
Galbi jjim is made with marinated beef short ribs. It is a popular Korean dish. Like Japchae, it is often enjoyed on special occasions or as a part of festive meals when families gather to celebrate.
Related Page: Korean Food
Chuseok Games and Activities
1. Ganggangsullae (강강술래)
Ganggangsullae is a traditional Korean circle dance usually performed in the evening of Chuseok. This dance has energetic and lively movements.
Participants stand in a circle, holding hands with the people on both sides of them, forming a human chain. The dance is accompanied by traditional Korean folk music in various tempos.
Ganggangsullae has a famous anecdote related to Admiral Yi Sunshin.
It was the Imjin War (Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592). In Haenam, Japanese troops significantly outnumbered Admiral Yi Sunshin. Admiral Yi gathered local women from the village and dressed them as men. The women created a circle and marched around the hills.
Because the Japanese invaders were looking up from the sea, they believed that Yi Sunshin’s soldiers were marching endlessly. Thanks to this tactic, they retreated in panic.
2. Ssireum (씨름)
Ssireum is a traditional Korean sport of folk wrestling. Koreans have played ssireum for centuries. It is a popular sport and cultural activity in Korea, often seen at festivals, competitions, and special events.
Beyond its role as a sport, ssireum has cultural significance in Korea. It is often associated with festivals and holidays, including Chuseok and Dano.
Once it was one of the most popular sports games in South Korea. Ssireum lost its popularity for a while, but it has recently regained people’s attention with a new concept on TV shows.
3. Other Korean Thanksgiving Games
In addition to Ganggangsullae and ssireum, people also have played juldarigi (줄다리기, tug-of-war) and yeonnaligi (연날리기, kite flying).
In South Korea, it is common to give gifts to family members (normally to parents or grandparents) on Chuseok and Seollal. This is not unusual among business relationships or sometimes among friends.
You can easily see special gift sets at supermarkets or department stores during this time. The most popular gift sets are beef sets, health food or supplement sets, and fruit sets. Spam sets and Korean-style hygiene gift sets are quite common as well.
How Can International Visitors and Foreigners Enjoy Chuseok?
Chuseok is the biggest celebration for Koreans. But, it could mean irregular business hours, unexpected traffic delays, and more trouble for international travelers. So if you are visiting Korea around this time, you need to plan accordingly.
Here is a list of what international travelers or foreigners in South Korea can do during Korean Thanksgiving Day:
1. Attend Cultural Events:
Check for Chuseok-related cultural events and performances happening in major cities like Seoul.
Although many museums and cultural centers are closed for Korean Thanksgiving, some places host special exhibitions, traditional dance performances, and folk music concerts.
2. Visit Historic Sites
Explore Korea’s historic sites, such as palaces, temples, and traditional villages, during Chuseok. These places often have special Hangawi-themed programs and activities for visitors (sometimes even free admission).
3. Take Part in Folk Games
Join in traditional Korean folk games like tuho (arrow-throwing), jegi chagi, or yunnori (a board game) at local parks or cultural centers. These games are often played on the holiday.
4. Try Chuseok Foods
Sample traditional Chuseok foods like songpyeon (rice cakes) and jeon (pancakes) at local restaurants or street vendors. These seasonal treats are delicious and reflect the holiday’s culinary traditions.
5. Visit a Folk Village
Consider visiting a traditional Korean folk village, such as the Korean Folk Village in Yongin or Hahoe Village in Andong. These places offer a glimpse into traditional Korean life and often have special Chuseok activities.
6. Enjoy the Scenery
Take the opportunity to enjoy Korea’s natural beauty by visiting parks, mountains, or scenic areas.
7. Experience Templestay
Templestay is not going to stop during Korean Thanksgiving. If you can’t join the templestay program, simply visiting a temple would be a good experience as well.
8. Find Sports Events
Chuseok is a great time to watch Korean sports games like ssireum or Korean Professional Baseball games. You may need to purchase a ticket early in advance, though.
9. Have Fun at Amusement Parks
It’s a fun time! Korean amusement parks like Everland in Yongin and Lotte World in Seoul are open during this holiday period.
10. Find The Best Spot for the Full Moon
Chuseok is the best time to enjoy the view of the full moon. Find the best spot for the moon view. And don’t forget to make a wish to the full moon.
11. Contact Local Support Centers
Depending on where you stay, you may be able to find local support centers for foreigners. Usually, they work for immigrants or long-term visitors, but you can still ask them if they have or introduce programs for Korean Thanksgiving.
Here are a few of the local support centers for foreigners:
- Busan: Busan Foreign Residents Center
- Seoul: Seoul Foreign Residents Center
- Seoul (Gangnam): Gangnam Global Village Center
- Incheon: Incheon Support Center for Foreign Residents
- Daejeon: Daejeon Support Center For Foreign Residents
- Gyeongsangnam-do: Gyeongsangnam-do Forerign Residents Support Center
In addition, you can always call 1330. It’s the phone number for the Travel Helpline by Korea Tourism Organization.
12. Plan Your Trip to South Korea Accordingly
It can be a great experience to visit South Korea during huge holiday seasons. But, many things such as traffic and business hours are different during this period so plan your trip accordingly. As I said before, the dates of two major holidays change every year.
More Information about Chuseok in Modern Days
Chuseok is probably one of the oldest and longest Korean traditions. As time goes by, the traditions have changed as well.
Obviously, there are new things, which were not a part of the holiday several hundred years ago.
1. Heavy Traffic
Chuseok is the worst traffic day of the year in South Korea. During the holidays, over 38 million people moved in 2018. Can you believe that 38 million people out of 50 million population moved?
Normally it takes approximately 5 hours between Seoul and Busan by car. At the peak time during the holidays, it can take up to almost 10 hours.
As you may guess, getting train or flight tickets is almost impossible for this holiday. When Korail starts selling train tickets for Chuseok, some people go to PC Bang (like an internet cafe) for better internet speed to get tickets.
2. Post-Holiday Syndrome (명절증후군)
Another issue is Holiday Stress. There is even a word for it in Korean, Post-Holiday Syndrome (명절증후군 /myong-jeol-jeung-hu-gun/.)
It started describing the physical and mental symptoms that daughter-in-laws had after the Korean holidays because of stress and the workload to prepare for the holidays. Also, it occurred after a long drive during the holiday.
But, its range has widened to many people, especially younger generations. College graduates who haven’t got a job yet, singles in their thirties and forties who haven’t got married, high school students especially seniors, and more. The stress usually comes from relatives who keep asking things to them.
3. International Travel
Chuseok holiday can be often longer than 3 days. If it falls in the middle of the week or close to other holidays like National Foundation Day, many companies make it a long holiday.
Thanks to this, many people use this time as a good opportunity to travel internationally. The number of people who have international trips during the holiday period has increased annually.
Additional Questions about Chuseok
1. Is Chuseok a religious holiday?
No, Chuseok is not a religious holiday. Because of Charye, it may seem to be related to Confucian.
However, it is a part of tradition rather than a religious ritual. Many people with different religions celebrate the holiday without holding Charye.
2. Is Chuseok celebrated every year?
Yes, it is. Although the date changes because of the lunar calendar, Koreans celebrate this holiday every year.
3. Do you bow on Chuseok?
Technically, there is no traditional bow on Chuseok unlike sebae on Seollal. However, it can vary depending on families.
Seollal, Korean New Year’s Day, is one of the two biggest holidays in South Korea along with Chuseok. Discover everything about Seollal, Korean Lunar New Year.
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