A taste of Korean culture
Seoul, South Korea. A city full of tourist attractions, people and one of the most complex, well-developed public transportation systems I've ever seen.
It's not just any other city for adventuring, though. From September 21 to the 23rd of this year, Koreans will celebrate Chuseok. South Korea follows the lunar calendar as well as the Gregorian calendar, and Chuseok falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, around the time of the Autumn Equinox (which celebrates the harvest season). It is a time to go back to one's hometown to visit relatives and pay respects to ancestors. Though I don't like to generalize, it is similar in some respects to the Western Thanksgiving. But Chuseok is also very different.
Legends say that the harvest festival originated as a month-long weaving contest between two teams during the time of kings and emperors. The contest ended on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, and the losing team, as a punishment, would then have to prepare a bountiful feast for the victorious team. The Chuseok origin myth is very different from the familiar story of Thanksgiving, which everyone is familiar with: pilgrims, Native Americans and lots of turkey.
The commemorating of ancestors is also very important due to the fact that, without them, the present generation would literally not exist. A table is set for them, mirrored so that the place setting is opposite of how it would normally be set. Food is specially prepared, without the usual strong garlic or pepper ingredients, and the actual ceremony to honor one's ancestors is one of complete respect and honor.
For most foreigners in Korea, it is difficult to understand this holiday because Chuseok is so focused on the family. When I asked some of my friends from abroad what they thought Chuseok was, they all told me the same thing: "Isn't it the Korean Thanksgiving?"
Yes, if you only consider that they are both harvest holidays in the fall that includes eating a good meal with your family. But, then again, there are also many similarities between several other harvest festivals, as well. Autumn is a time to be thankful for all the hard work one has reaped during the hot summer days.
Yet, that's not all it is. For the blue-collar folk, Chuseok is one of the few times to get out of the office and to travel with the family. This year, the holiday falls during the middle of the week, which gives people up to nine days of travel, a much appreciated vacation period in a country that seems to be made up of workaholics. Relatives will sometimes travel overseas during this time to visit family members who live in other countries and can't make it back to Korea for Chuseok. It isn't unheard of for an entire family to head overseas during this time just for holidays, either. A holiday is a time to relax, right?
For me, the holiday is more than that: it is something new to explore. Because Chuseok happens during the fall, when school is just beginning, it's hard for my family in the United States to celebrate anything with my extended family. As I will be in Korea this fall, it is time for me to learn what this holiday is all about. So, to everyone back home in the States, Happy Chuseok! Eat all of your Dana burgers and don't forget to remember your ancestors because you seriously wouldn't be here without them.
Writing from Korea,
- Yuri Min