As the seasons change and autumn arrives, Unificationists observe the Korean harvest holiday, Chuseok, or the “Korean Thanksgiving.”
We also wish you and your family a very Happy Chuseok! Read on to learn more about the history and the celebration of this traditional Korean holiday.
Origins of Chuseok
Chuseok is one of the most celebrated holidays in modern Korea. True Parents celebrate Chuseok every year and have made it an international Unificationist tradition.
This major harvest festival, also called Hangawi, Jungchujul or Gabae, is a three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Koreans still follow the moon and its cycle to celebrate important dates. Like many other harvest festivals, Chuseok is held around the autumn equinox. As a celebration of the good harvest of the grains and fruits which are at their ripest and freshest for harvesting, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of traditional food and rice wines. This year the festival will be celebrated on September 13-15, 2019.
The tradition of Chuseok originates in both folklore and history. Some think Chuseok originates from gabae, a month-long weaving contest between two teams that started during the reign of the third king of the Silla dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD). The team that had woven more cloth by the end of the month would win the contest and be treated to a feast by the losing team. Others believe it marks the day that Silla won a great victory over the rival kingdom of Baekje. It is believed that weaving competitions, archery competitions and martial arts demonstrations were held as part of the festivities. Many scholars believe the holiday may originate from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon. In modern shamanistic traditions, new harvests are commonly offered to local deities and ancestors, giving Chuseok its origins as a worship ritual.
In Korean culture, heavily influenced by Confucianism, respect for the elderly is extremely important. Thus Chuseok is not simply a feast celebration like the American holiday of Thanksgiving. For Chuseok, people must complete three major duties in honor of their ancestors:
Charye (ancestor memorial service): On Chuseok morning, family members prepare an elaborate table setting of food in their home to pay respect to their respective ancestors. The important food offering for Charye is freshly harvested rice, an assortment of fruits, alcohol and songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cakes). Meticulous steps are taken in setting up the offering table, including lighting candles before the alcohol is poured in exactly three different cups and bowing twice afterward. Each dish also has a specific place on the table. The meaning of Charye is to return the ancestors’ favor and to honor them: an expression of thanks for their support in reaping a bountiful harvest. After paying their respects, the family members then sit around the table and enjoy the food together.
Beolcho (clearing weeds around graves): The custom of clearing the weeds from the ancestors’ resting places is considered a duty and an expression of devotion and respect for one’s family. If the resting places still have weeds growing around them after Chuseok, it gives the impression that the ancestors have undutiful children and is considered an embarrassment for the family.
Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves): Koreans visit the resting places of their ancestors, usually located in families’ respective hometowns, where they pay their respects and perform ancestral worship rituals, often in the form of bowing before the grave and offering alcohol, fruits, meat and shikhye (a fermented rice drink).
Once these tasks are completed, it is time to feast and chat and drink after dinner and play traditional and modern Korean games.
As part of the Chuseok celebrations each year, leaders of the Unification movement in Korea pay their respects at the resting site for members of True Parents’ family in Paju, located 25 miles north of Seoul and 1.5 hours away from Cheongpyeong. At Paju there are two wonjeon (resting places). One is for the True Parents’ family and the other is for elder Unificationists.
Tasty Fact: Songpyeon
One of the major foods prepared and eaten during Chuseok is a Korean traditional rice cake stuffed with healthy ingredients such as sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube and honey. Songpyeon is made up of two halves of rice skin which, when put together, resemble a full moon. Once it’s filled with stuffing, however, its shape resembles a half-moon. Ever since the Three Kingdoms era in Korean history, there has been a Korean legend that says these two shapes ruled the destinies of the two greatest rival kingdoms, Baekje and Silla. During the era of King Uija of Baekje, an encrypted phrase, “Baekje is full moon and Silla is half-moon,” was found on a turtle’s back, and it was believed to have predicted the fall of the Baekje and the rise of the Silla. The prophecy came true when Silla defeated Baekje in war. Ever since, Koreans started to refer to a half-moon shape as the indicator of a bright future or victory. It is for this reason that during Chuseok families gather together and eat half-moon shaped songpyeon under the full moon, wishing one another a brighter future.