Now in my fifth year in Korea, I’m starting to realize that I have assimilated somewhat into the culture. Things that were once very foreign to me now seem completely commonplace. Sometimes, I have to remind myself…wait a minute, I actually used to leave my shoes on INSIDE my house? Eww, how dirty! Or, why would I NOT eat kimchi with every meal? Or, telling Finn, who is now 2 and a half years old, that he’s going to be in trouble if he doesn’t say hello loudly in Korean and bow to any elder person who speaks to him.
Maybe that means it’s time to move on to somewhere else. A new place that challenges me every day. Who knows if I’ll ever do that. For now, it means Korea has become a part of me. She’s come in my life like the bullet train that crosses the country: fast and quiet, tenacious and proud, humble yet memorable.
This week is Chuseok in Korea, one of the two largest holidays in in the country (the other being Lunar New Year). It’s like our American Thanksgiving back home, minus the pilgrims and Indians, plus a different menu and with a thousand-year-old culture thrown in.
Also known as Hangawi (한가위), Chuseok was the day on which Koreans, an agrarian people throughout most of history, gave thanks to their ancestors for the year’s harvest, and shared their abundance with family and friends.
According to the Korean Tourism Organization, Han means “big” and gawi means “the ides of August/Autumn” (August 15th according to the lunar calendar is when the full harvest moon appears).
Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, the tradition may be found at ancient religious practices that centered around the moon. The sun’s presence was considered routine, but the full moon that came once a month was considered a special and meaningful event. Therefore, harvest festivities took place on the day of the bright, full moon or August 15 on the lunar calendar system. This year, it falls on September 19.
Modern Chuseok looks a lot different than it used to, of course. One major part of the modern holiday is gift-giving. This season of gift-giving is much larger than their Christmas celebration, which is seen more of a “date day” in Korea. But during Chuseok season, you can’t go through a shopping center or large grocery chain without seeing the ubiquitous box sets of random gifts. Women dressed in traditional Korean hanbok help customers find the perfect gift box set: expensive boxes of beautifully arranged cans of spam, olive oil, shampoo, ginger roots, make-up, sesame-oils, you-name-it.
Oh how strange that used to be! Why would anyone want a box of spam? Spam? Seriously?
I can’t help but think this is completely normal now. Whit came home from the office on Friday with a beautiful box of some 20 oranges. “What a beautiful gift,” I exclaim, when he pedaled home on his bike, balancing the large box wrapped and tied in a pink scarf on his handlebars. “Wow! That was so kind of your boss. He must have spent so much money!”
I even went so far as to think what the perfect Chuseok gift for me would be. Hmmm, I thought. A box of body lotions. Yes! Or maybe the box set of diverse tea bags. That would be really lovely! I do love tea!
For now, we are enjoying our oranges. And if you live nearby, we’d love to share. We have enough to last us until the next Chuseok. But if you come over, don’t forget to take your shoes off at the door.
See our other blogs on Chuseok:
Lindsay- “Happy Chuseok” 2007
Lindsay- “Chuseok–A holiday for men, a vacation for children, a labor day for women”
Whit “Celebrate Chuseok” 2011