An Insider’s Guide to Chuseok: Do it the local way!

Chuseok, also called Hangawi in the olden days, is one of Korea’s biggest national holidays. It’s the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, or what we call the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore. It is a major harvest festivity, where families get together and hold memorial ceremonies for their ancestors to thank them for a bountiful harvest of crops and food.

Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon, this year’s 2018 Chuseok holiday will start from 23 September and end on the 25th.

As we munch on mooncakes and sip some tea, find out what happens on Chuseok from our Korea friends!

* Image used courtesy of KTO

Chuseok is reunion time for families

During this special time of the year, over 75% of people in Korea visit their hometowns and reunite with their families to spend time together.

Crazy traffic jams, slow travel time and sold-out transport tickets are usual sights during the busy Chuseok holiday. This year, over 18 million people are expected to move around the country during the five-day holiday!

So what happens during Chuseok?

Chuseok is very well known for traditional Korean games and the festive foods that are significant to this holiday. These traditions go way back in time originating from the Silla period. During then, it is believed that weaving competitions, archery competitions, and martial arts demonstrations were held as part of the festivities.

Some of these traditions continued on to the modern days, in the form of folk games like Ssireum, which is a Korean version of wrestling, Ganggangsullae, a type of group dance performed mostly by girls under the full moon, and Hwatu, a unique Asian card game. Sometimes, grownups bet small money when playing Hwatu, to make the game even more interesting!

What to eat during Chuseok

And of course, Chuseok being a celebration of harvest, we can’t leave out the amazing food that is shared by everyone!

Families usually serve the most delicious dishes for the memorial ceremony to offer to the ancestors (Charye), which everyone delightfully shares after the ceremony.

Dishes and drinks prepared for the ceremony usually include Jeon, a traditional Korean pancake using many different ingredients, Kalbi, which is a delicious marinated beef dish, and Sikhye, a sweet rice drink that is commonly served as dessert. Alcoholic drinks like soju are of course staples during the holiday, with sales of soju expected to jump by close to 40% during the Chuseok weekend!

Korean Pancake
* Image used courtesy of KTO

For food, Songpyeon is a type of traditional Korean rice cake with colourful decorations, which is also a great dessert and is stuffed with various crops, such as sesame seeds, black beans, walnut, and many more. 

When done traditionally, Songpyeon rice cakes are arranged upon layers of pine needles as they are steamed, filling the home with the delicate and fresh fragrance of autumn. This particular rice cake is unique to Chuseok, and making Songpyeon is usually a fun and bonding group activity shared by the whole family.

* Image used courtesy of KTO

Visiting Korea during Chuseok?

While the locals get busy with their families, here’re some fun things you can do when visiting Korea during the busy Chuseok holiday!

  • Visit traditional museums like Gyeongbokgung Palace or Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul or folk tourist attractions to enjoy Korean traditional folk games, including Jegichagi (shuttlecock-kicking), tuho (traditional stick-throwing), neolttwigi, (seesaw), gulleongsoe (hoop-rolling), yut nori and more.
  • Visit Insadong to soak in the traditional and art culture and buy some handmade crafts.
  • Go shopping! Most major retailers stay open during the majority of the Chuseok holiday, and with the Chuseok sales during this period,  there’s never a better timing to check out the shopping streets of Myeongdong, Sinsa and Dongdaemun.
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