SOUTH KOREA - Chuseok is a major Korean holiday similar to the American Thanksgiving. It is an ancient tradition with deep cultural roots and holds a place of real significance for the Korean people. Beginning Aug. 15 of the lunar calendar, Chuseok will fall Sept. 29 - Oct. 1 in 2012. Keep those dates in mind; you’ll see why.
The name, Chuseok, means an autumn night with the best moonlight. Historical records place the origin of Chuseok in the Three Kingdoms period, approximately 2100 years ago. Beginning as an agricultural celebration, teams of women from neighboring villages would compete against one another to see who could weave more cloth.
At stake was a meal prepared from the year’s first harvest. They would then use the resulting cloth to make new clothes, which would be worn to pay respect to ancestors at their burial mounds.
Together they would celebrate the change of season with various activities. Gang Gang Sul Lae is the most well known of these. It translates, roughly, to the turning of the wheel, and was a circle dance the women would perform beneath the light of a full moon.
Together, the women and the full moon formed a strong symbolism for wealth and served as a prayer for a blessed year.
However, as Korea transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society, many of the community traditions fell away and their significance was transferred to the remaining family level events. Today, everybody returns to their hometown and gathers with their family for Chuseok.
Now, back to those dates mentioned earlier. Don’t even think about traveling. The national migration always creates a national traffic jam. The highways turn into gigantic parking lots. But, people endure the quadrupled travel time because, well, it’s Chuseok.
Actually, to be fair, some people dread the holiday. For them, after enduring the unique pain of the journey, they must then navigate the inevitable comments and judgments from their numerous relatives on every aspect of their life — from career and financial status to personal relationships. While it may sound awful, you don’t have a choice. It’s Chuseok.
However, despite all the hassle, Chuseok is still a very special time for Korean families. Most of the large-scale celebrations are gone, now. But, the closeness of the holidays survives with holiday foods, family gatherings and the traditional honoring of ancestors.
So, if you know any Korean families, wish them speedy travels and a peaceful Chuseok. They’re going to need it.