‘No more no less, may it always be like Chuseok’, This phrase is an old Korean proverb. Chuseok, along with the Lunar New Year’s Day, is considered one of the biggest holidays in Korea. Chuseok is on August 15th following lunar calendar. On this day, families gather to share delicious food and thank their ancestors. It is common to rest for about 5 to 6 days, both in front of and behind the day of Chuseok. In 2019, from September 12 to September 15, including the weekend, is designated as the Chuseok holiday period. During this time, many people visit to their hometowns and meet their extended family members. Chuseok can be easily understood by thinking of other harvest celebrations around the world, for instance Thanksgiving in the United States. Perhaps in most countries, there are holidays when families gather and eat delicious foods. However, unlike these holidays, there are many unique features of Korea’s Chuseok. From now on, let’s look at the unique features of Chuseok
1. Courtesy for Ancestors
Perhaps the biggest difference between American Thanksgiving Day and Korea’s Chuseok is to appreciate the direct ancestors. On Thanksgiving Day, families gather together to pray and have delicious dinner only. However, on Chuseok, people actively show respect for their direct ancestors by visiting their graves and cutting the grass on their graves.
a. Cutting the Grass on the Grave
On Chuseok, there is a culture of cutting the grass of direct ancestors’ graves. Recently there have been a growing number of people using the charnel house without using graves, but so far, many Koreans are still using graves. Korea has long been sensitive to feng shui theory that the success and failure of future descendants will be determined by the location of their ancestors’ graves. Therefore, in the past, it was often that people relocated in order to secure a good location of their ancestors’ graves. Not only the location, but also the appearance of the grave is important. Since the grave’s appearance meant the degree of descendant’s love for their ancestors. If the graves were full of weeds, descendants were deemed undutiful children. Therefore, on Chuseok, the descendants cut the grass to clear the appearance of their ancestors’ graves.
b. Visiting to Ancestor’s Grave
Cutting the grass on an ancestor’s grave is observed to show honor to one’s ancestors. When people visit ancestor’s graves, they bow and perform ancestral rites. They take various seasonal foods and drinks, set them up in front of the graves of their ancestors and pray for the future well-being of descendants as they bow in rotation.
2. Folk Play
Chuseok is a holiday, so we cannot miss folk play. Because it is the day when all the family gather in the most abundant time of the food, various games have developed. Let’s learn more about these games.
Ganggangsulae-Traditional Korean Circle Dance Play
Ganggangsulae is a dramatic folk performance that represents Chuseok. Its traditional beauty is so impressive that it was selected as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in September 2009. Ganggangsulae is a play in which women dance in a circle under the bright full moon. At first, it starts with a slow tune, and then gradually it starts to go faster. In particular, it is repeatedly sung to the refrain ‘Ganggangsulae’. Ganggangsulae is a folk play that shows the spirit of active women in the past patriarchal Korean society, and is well-melted with the national sentiment characteristic of Korea.
b. Juldarigi-Tugging Rituals and Games
Juldarigi is a Korean version of tug of war. It is a national game in which villagers in two teams compete by pulling a straw rope. Although it is common for villagers to enjoy playing regardless of whether they win or lose, they sometimes predicted the degree of farming that year depending on the result. Through this game, the villagers were able to become closer to each other.
c. Ssireum-Traditional Korean Wrestling
Ssireum is a traditional Korean wrestling game in which one wrestler attempts to overturns his opponent on the sand. Like Ganggangsulae, Ssireum was also recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in January 2017 as. As Ssireum has a long history, various ssireum techniques have developed and many ssireum related competitions are held every year.
3. Chuseok food-Songpyeon
Since Chuseok is a holiday after harvest, food has developed a lot. If people in the U.S. can pick up turkey on Thanksgiving Day, Koreans can pick up songpyeon on Chuseok. Songpyeon is a traditional Korean rice cake kneaded with rice flour and stuffed with a filling made of sugar and red beans or sesame. It is usually shaped like a half moon and steamed with pine needles at the end. As the saying goes, ‘If you make a beautiful songpyeon a beautiful child will be born’ This means that the shape of songpyeon was considered importantly. In the past, Koreans ate songpyeon with gratitude for the year's harvest while watching the full moon. The full moon falls off little by little, but the half moon fills up little by little. The reason why the shape of the songpyeon is a half moon is to pray that one's wish will come true little by little, just as half moon fills up. Interestingly, songpyeon even have different regional recipes and shapes. Now, let's learn about the characteristics of Korean regional songpyeon!
a. Seoul: Five Colors of Songpyeon
A colorful and fascinating songpyeon. It features the distinctive characteristics of Seoul, which emphasizes the appearance of food. A variety of natural materials, such as omija, gardenia, azalea, and wormwood, are used to produce the different colors
b. Gangwon-do: Potato Songpyeon
Gangwon-do songpyeon is characterized by using potatoes in songpyeon. The dough of ordinary songpyeon are usually made from rice flour; however, Gangwon-do instead uses its specialty, potatoes, to make potato starch, from which a dough for songpyeon is made. Potato songpyeon is famous for its chewy taste and can be easily found at a local rice cake shop in Gangwon-do.
c. Jeolla-do: Ramie-leaf Songpyeon.
Jeolla-do songpyeon is made by mixing ramie, a widely grown leaf in Jeolla-do, into a paste. It is about three times larger than regular songpyeon and its dark green color is also unique. This songpyeon is very healthy for arthritis because it is rich in calcium and iron.
d. Jeju Island: Pea Songpyeon
Songpyeon in Jeju Island is a little unique in shape. Unlike ordinary half-moon-shaped songpyeon, Jeju Island's songpyeon is shaped like a flying saucer that resembling a UFO. There is a green filling inside, which is a pea filling made from peas. Unlike other regions, Jeju Island residents usually use peas in songpyeon.
So far, we have learned about Korean Chuseok culture. Chuseok culture has developed in various ways because Chuseok is so old that its origin is unclear. Despite such fine customs, most young Koreans are not interested in such Chuseok culture. They don’t care about the culture of Chuseok at all and only value the fact that it is simply a vacation. Many families skip over the weeds and graves, and there are even families who do not visit their parents' homes in their hometown on Chuseok. We must not be deceived by familiarity. The fine culture handed down by our ancestors should be continued by our descendants to the end. Why don't you pay a little attention to Chuseok culture in this Chuseok?< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >