WHAT IS CHUSEOK?
Chuseok (추석), also known as Hangawi (한가위), is typically considered “Korean Thanksgiving.” It is one of the two biggest holidays in Korea and is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so the exact dates differ from year to year. This year it is a glorious 6-day holiday, September 29 ~ October 3, 2023, and we are all very excited about it.
HOW DO KOREANS CELEBRATE CHUSEOK?
Typically, Chuseok is a time to visit your hometown and enjoy meals, play games and catch up with family. Like in the west, it’s a time to give thanks and celebrate. Many families will perform a ceremony called charye (차례), which is a type of ancestral memorial service. This consists of prayer, bowing and a table set with an elaborate spread of traditional foods. Typically they are arranged in a way that helps invite ancestral spirits into the home to enjoy the feast. Think “Coco,” but Korean style.
Visiting ancestral graves is also pretty common during this time of year. Beolcho (벌초) is when you visit your family’s gravesite and do some maintenance like pulling the weeds and cleaning the area around it. Many of these sites are out in the mountains or countryside, so taking the time to care for it is imperative and a sign of love and respect for those who have passed. Our family doesn’t usually do this around Chuseok, but instead we make time to do it twice a year (once in the spring and once in the fall).
TRAVELING DURING CHUSEOK
During Chuseok, families usually travel to their hometowns or the homes of the head of their family. This means plane, bus and train tickets are booked and sold out way in advance and traffic is on a whole other level atrociousness. If you’re in or planning on visiting Korean during this time, keep this in mind.
In the days leading up to Chuseok, you’ll see many people purchasing and walking around with gift bags or bojagi wrapped packages. These gifts can consist of anything from expensive fruits and nice cuts of meat to skin care, toiletries and the ever-popular spam gift set. I myself have been the recipient of many a spam gift set.
WHAT TO WEAR DURING CHUSEOK?
From a foreigner’s perspective, one might expect to see an entire country clad in traditional hanbok on Chuseok, but that actually isn’t the case. Usually it’s the children who are expected to wear hanbok, though on occasion you may see a whole family dressed in matching hanbok. Recently, however, a lot of people are opting back into the tradition by wearing Daily Hanbok. There are also a fair amount of dogs who are actively carrying on the tradition by wearing their best hanbok.
WHAT TO EAT DURING CHUSEOK?
Much like Thanksgiving in the west, food is a big part of Chuseok. It is a time to feast and we certainly do in our house. Traditionally the food is prepared by the women of the house, in this case, that’s just me. I usually spend 2 days preparing all the food, as I make everything from scratch. My husband usually helps with dishes and cleanup.
Every household is different, but some common dishes you’ll find on any table would be different kinds of jeon, nameul, kimchi, japchae, songpyeon, galbi jjim, fried fish, Korean pears, makgeolli and a variety of other thing. I usually focus on making the thing my family enjoys eating, rather than just traditional ones.
If you’re looking for some good traditional Korean food, we recommend Insa-dong Geujip. It’s a traditional Korean restaurant nestled inside a renovated wooden hanok (traditional Korean house). They serve all sorts of traditional Korean dishes and we’re yet to order anything that wasn’t completely delicious. The prices are definitely on the higher side (being in a touristy area), but the portions are large and most dishes can easily feed 3~4 people.
I’M VISITING DURING CHUSEOK, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Just because you’re visiting doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holiday as well. Actually, this is the perfect time to rent a hanbok and visit historical sites. The palaces, Namsangol Hanok Village and many others will be free admission.
Namsangol Hanok Village will have traditional art performances, crafting and folk games. Donuimun Museum Village will have traditional art experiences, traditional music performances and other events.
Due to the holiday season, some places (restaurants, cafes, shops, etc.) may be closed or have adjusted hours of operation. That being said, larger places like theme parks, theaters and shopping malls will definitely be open. So, be sure to make the most out of a slightly less congested Seoul.