Chuseok (Hangul: 추석), literally “Autumn eve”, once known as hangawi (Hangul: 한가위; from archaic Korean for “the great middle (of autumn)”), is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in North Korea and South Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. Like many other harvest festivals around the world, it is held around the autumn equinox, i.e. at the very end of summer or in early autumn.
As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon (Hangul: 송편) and rice wines such as sindoju and dongdongju. There are two major traditions related to Chuseok: Charye (ancestor memorial services at home) and Seongmyo (family visit to the ancestral graves).
One of the major foods prepared and eaten during the Chuseok holiday is songpyeon, a Korean traditional rice cake which contains stuffing made with ingredients such as sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube, and honey. When making songpyeon, steaming them over a layer of pine-needles is critical. The word song in songpyeon means a pine tree in Korean. The pine needles not only contribute to songpyeon’s aromatic fragrance, but also its beauty and taste.
Songpyeon is also significant because of the meaning contained in its shape. Songpyeon’s rice skin itself resembles the shape of a full moon, but once it wraps the stuffing, its shape resembles the half-moon. Koreans have believed a half-moon shape is an indicator of a bright future or victory. Therefore, during Chuseok, families gather together and eat half-moon-shaped Songpyeon under the full moon, wishing for a brighter future.
In addition, other foods commonly prepared are Hangwa is an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns. japchae, bulgogi, an assortment of Korean pancakes and fruits and Baekseju liquor made of freshly harvested rice.
Charye is one of the ancestral memorial rites celebrated during Chuseok, symbolising the returning of favours and honoring ancestors and past generations. The rite involves the gathering of families in holding a memorial service for their ancestors through the harvesting, preparation and presentation of special foods as offerings. The rite embodies the traditional view of spiritual life beyond physical death, respecting the spirits of the afterlife that now also serve to protect their descendants. The foods offered have traditionally varied across provinces depending on what was available, but commonly constitute of freshly harvested rice, rice cakes (songpyeon) and fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. The arrangement of the foods of Charye on the table are also notable: traditionally rice and soup are placed on the north and fruits and vegetables are placed on the south; meat dishes are served on the west and in the middle, and rice cake and some drinks such as makgeolli or soju are placed on the east. These details can vary across regions.
Seongmyo and Beolcho
Seongmyo and Beolcho are also done around Chuseok week. Seongmyo is a visiting to ancestral grave sites and Beolcho is the activity to remove weeds around the grave to clean their ancestor’s site.
Chinese Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Chinese Moon Festival, brings families together to celebrate the harvest under a full moon. The holiday is all about giving thanks, for nature’s abundance and for joyful reunions with loved ones. Mid-Autumn Festival 2018 is September 24, 2018. It takes place every year with the full moon that falls on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar.
History & Folklore
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival that focuses on the spirit of gratitude. So the ancient story goes, the beautiful Chang’e drank an elixir of immortality and flew to the moon, while the archer Hou Yi later became the God of the Sun. The forlorn couple is reunited once a month when the full moon burns brightly from the force of their love. Today, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated to mark the end of the harvest season, while giving thanks for the gifts of family unity and togetherness.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a fall festival with origins in moon worship that marks the turning of the seasons and life’s cycles between new and old. The holiday is one of the three big festivals designated for the living — the others are Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival.
The Origins of Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions
Mid-Autumn Festival traditions focus on thanksgiving and reunion, themes that should resonate in today’s fast-paced world. The full moon symbolizes unity and offerings are made in the hopes for long life, reunion with distant relatives and new romance. The simplest way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival is to visit with family and close friends, casually chatting under the moonlight. It’s an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. The holiday feels like an all-American evening at the town park or bandstand, just with mooncakes, tea and brightly-colored lanterns.
TeRra Magazine Team