Chuseok - Korean Thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea

Chuseok Festival on 15th day of 8th lunar month is the most important traditional festival in Korea, known as Korean Thanksgiving or Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea. People there have a 3-day holiday to go home to reunite with families, sweep tombs, worship ancestors, eat Songpyeon, and wear traditional Korean costumes to have fun, etc.

Chuseok’s Origin and Relation with Mid-Autumn Festival in China

There is not a single agreement of the origin of Chuseok in Korea.

It is recorded that Korean people defeated the invaders in 822 AD, and they celebrated the victory for 3 days and nights, with dances, music, and food. This custom was inherited by one generation after another, which later formed the Chuseok.

Another record in North Korea says it is only an entertainment after the weaving competition. People held weaving competition to celebrate harvest on 15th day of 8th lunar month, and there were also entertainment activities after competition. The festival is thought as the inheritance of the entertainment.

More people think it is originated from the activity of thanking their ancestors for the harvest in the ancient time. The earliest record about this custom was in 32AD, when people celebrated harvest with delicious delicacies, dances and music. It was not until middle Silla (57BC - 935AD), the name Chuseok came into being, derived from then Chinese names of Mid-Autumn Festival. At that time, the folk customs of this festival were also greatly influenced by Chinese culture. In Koryo Era (918 - 1392), Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea had become quite popular.

Chuseok is a Time for Family Reunion.

It might be the most important custom of the Moon Festival in Korea Peninsula, both in South Korea and North Korea. People work in other places go back to their hometowns and reunite with the family members to celebrate the festival. For this reason, there is a 3-day Chuseok holiday in South Korea, which is one of its two longest holidays; if it falls next to weekends, it would be a 5-day holiday.

Autumn Travel Rush – Mass Migration throughout Korean Peninsula

To reunite with families, crowds of people working in big cities make their way to their hometowns, forming a busy travel rush during the Chuseok holiday every year. It is a mass migration throughout South Korea. Train tickets and bus tickets are difficult to buy. Traffic jams on express ways are very common; to drive home, they may need three times of travel time than on usual days.

Sweep Tombs and Worship Ancestors

After gathering together, people sweep the tombs of their ancestors’ before the celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea. They used to do this one or two days prior, but nowadays it would be on the festival day. The ancestral tombs of Koreans are generally on the mountains, so sweeping tombs is also called “going up the mountain”. “Going up the mountain” on Chuseok is the most important thing in the year and nothing could make it delay.

In some places of South Korea, people go to the home of the eldest brother to worship ancestors in the morning of Chuseok instead. They set fruit wine, rice cakes, taro soup, and various fruits as sacrifices on the table. All men of the family should stand straight in front of the table. When the ceremony begins, the eldest brother opens the door of the house to welcome the ancestors. Then they burn incense one by one, and kowtow to ancestors. The eldest brother should introduce the ancestors' life stories to the families, and then ask if ancestors have finished enjoying the sacrifices. Finally, they kowtow to the ancestors again to send them away. After the ceremony, the adults drink the sacrificial wine and then families can enjoy their reunion breakfast.

Wear Traditional Korean Costumes

On the Mid-Autumn Festival in South Korea, people would also like to wear traditional Korean costumes and have a visit to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Folk Village, the National Folk Museum, or the Namsan Hanok Village. Folk activities such as kicking a shuttlecock and playing a gyro are usually held in these places. You may also have the opportunity to enjoy the scene of Korean girls playing with the seesaw. At night, girls in in traditional Korean costumes also gather together to dance and sing hands in hands in a circle under the moon light.

Songpyeon – the Most Popular Food for Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea

Songpyeon is the most popular food on the Mid-Autumn Festival in North Korea as well as in South Korea. It is a kind of Korean traditional rice cake, made of rice flour with various fillings inside. Koreans also add pumpkin, spinach, buckwheat flour or others into the rice flour, to get colorful Songpyeon. They also shape the cakes like dumplings, pumpkins, peaches or in round. Steamed with a layer of pine needles below to prevent the cake from sticking to the steamer, it has a unique fragrance of pine needles. It generally tastes sweet for the fillings is sesames, sugar, chestnuts or beans. No meat or vegetable is contained in the stuffing. Koreans eat it in various ways, frying, boiling with ramen, dipped with sauce, or as a material of the hot pot.   

There are other festival foods on the Moon Festival in Korea, such as Hangwa Cakes, Taro Soup, New Rice Liquor…

Chuseok Gifts – What do Koreans give each other on Mid-Autumn Festival?

At the beginning, the gifts of the Chuseok Festival are mainly daily necessities. In the 20th century, people gave cooking oil, beef, fruits, coffee, cooking utensils, etc. In recent years, the popular gifts include pure natural organic foods, Korean ginseng and other nutritional products, and small household appliances.

Further Reading

Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong

Mid-autumn Festival in Taiwan

Mid-Autumn Festival in Other Asian Countries

Tsukimi, Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

Mid-Autumn Festival in Malaysia

Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam - Têt Trung Thu, Children’s Festival

- Last updated on Aug. 13, 2019 -
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