Happy Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving!

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Author: umma
Date: 9-22-10
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Today is Chuseok (추석), or the Korean version of Thanksgiving. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, or September 22 for the year 2010, when the moon is believed to be at its fullest. Many other Asian cultures also celebrate a harvest or moon festival on this day. Chuseok used to be called Hangawi (한가위), but more recently it is called “Chusu Gamsa Jol", meaning "harvest appreciation day" in direct translation.

It's the second biggest holiday for Koreans, next to the Seol Nal (설날), or Lunar New Year. It usually falls right after the autumn harvest, when the crops would be plentiful … tons of rice, and fruits and vegetables like chestnuts, dates, apples and pears. During this Chuseok holiday, which is observed over three days, Koreans attribute their good harvest and prosperity to their ancestors and visit the ancestral tombs to offer food, and drink.

When I was young and living in Korea, there would typically be a whole herd of people leaving the city because even then, many people lived in Seoul. People head towards the country side for the 3-day Chuseok holiday, usually to visit their older extended family as well as to visit their ancestors’ graves. One of the major foods prepared for this day is Songpyeon (송편), a type of Korean rice cake. This is made using the fresh crops of rice, chestnuts, sesame seeds and beans. It's a crescent shaped rice cake made with different fillings, such as chestnuts, sesame seeds, and different kinds of beans, which are traditionally steamed on top of the freshly picked pine needles. Other foods commonly prepared during Chuseok are japchae, different kinds of jeon (vegetable pan cakes), bulgogi, galbijim and fruits.

In some families, special food is also prepared for Jesa (제사), which is a Korean tradition of paying respects and remembering their deceased ancestors. During Chuseok, Koreans will visit the tomb of their ancestors dressed in traditional cloth, they would trim plants and clean the area around the tomb. Also, special food is prepared for Jesa, such as plainly flavored and simply cooked beef, fish, fruits, rice cakes and vegetables. A table is set with the food, and families pray, bow and offer the food to their ancestors. This food would be eaten and shared with the relatives and neighbors.

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