November 22, 2012

Korean Thanksgiving: Chuseok (Part 2)

As I stated in my last article, during Chuseok the Korean people go home for the holiday and pay respect to their ancestors. They also go to the home of the head of the household. In the States we just go to our parent’s house or grandparent’s house. This adds a small twist to the Korean Thanksgiving known as Chuseok.

For the average Korean, the day of Chuseok may go something like this: in the early morning hours, a Korean family may perform an ancestral worship ritual. This ritual is called chare, and the memorial rites are offered up to the great-great grandfather. This is usually an elaborate table setting of food that is offered to the ancestors. They have a very specific method of doing this important ritual.

The family will then go to the tombs of their closest ancestors to pull the weeds and clean up the area. They will offer food, wine, rice, and other crops to their ancestors. Cutting of the weeds is called bulcho, and is considered a duty to ones’ ancestors.

Another tradition is a circle dance only performed by women. The dance is called ganggangsulle and is performed by women and children in the southwestern parts of Korea. One woman leads the group and the others repeat what she says. Watching this kind of dance is very interesting and sometimes hypnotic. Usually the lead singer will be singing about hardships.

Other traditional things have fallen by the wayside, and are not really done outside of villages. An example of this would be people dressing up as cows or turtles, then proceeding from house to house asking for food. This food would then be given to people who could not afford their own food.

It is a part of the American tradition to play football with ones friends and family on Thanksgiving. In Korea, however, they used to get together and play tug of war, have archery competitions, ssireum (this is a type of wrestling), and Korean planking, which is like see-saw but you stand on the ends instead of sitter and it doesn’t go very high.

Honestly, the thing most people care about at Thanksgiving in both Korea and America is food, except in Korea they do not eat a large turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. They eat a rice cake called songpyeon. This excites many Koreans and it makes them very happy to make and eat it. Children and adults just get really excited for this bland rice cake. It is a big bonding thing that the family does together; maybe that’s what really matters.

Personally, I don’t hate it, but I don’t actively go looking for it either. It can be good, depending on what the filling is, which can be: beans, adzuki, chestnuts, jujube, or other grains, all of which were picked from the newly harvested crops. Normally, for me, after one or two rice cakes. I am finished. It’s just a rice cake, and rather bland in general.

Another side dish that they eat is japchae, a stir fried noodle that is made out of sweet potatoes. It is one of those things you are not that excited to taste when you find out what it is, but I think it is pretty good to eat.

Their meat of the day is usually bulgogi, (marinated meat) which is usually beef. I love this dish; most people think it is delicious. It was ranked 23rd in the world for most delicious food by CNN Go in 2011. Also, it is not just eaten at Chuseok: it is consumed very regularly.

The Good: Korean traditions are different than our western traditions, but that’s what makes it fun and special.

Image Credit: grafica / Shutterstock

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