Chuseok is more than just a Korean Thanksgiving 

Under the full moon when the autumn leaves ripen, Koreans gather together to celebrate one of the biggest annual holidays called Chuseok (추석), also known as Korean Thanksgiving. Meaning ‘autumn night’ in Korean, Chuseok falls on August 15th of the Lunar calendar, when the moon is typically at its fullest and brightest. Per this year’s Gregorian calendar, Chuseok will be September 10th - this national holiday will start on Friday, September 9th,  and conclude on Sunday, September 11th. Chuseok is often a three-day celebration, with the Korean government recognizing this thanksgiving day by giving its citizens off the day before and after the holiday to allow extra time for travel and gathering with family, friends, and loved ones.

Although Chuseok is often described as a Korean version of the American Thanksgiving, there are some distinct differences. While the main purpose of the two traditions align - both symbolize giving thanks - the two holidays fall in different parts of the fall for specific reasons. The American Thanksgiving happens in late November, historically after annual crops have been harvested, while Chuseok is celebrated in early fall before the harvest season. The traditions of Chuseok began as a form of giving thanks and reflection on hard-working summers, praying to ancestors for a bountiful fall harvest to come. The timing of both Thanksgivings is an important distinction, one celebrating the end of harvest, while the other anticipating a successful one. A ritual called Jesa (제사) is often performed, offering the very first harvest of the year to the spirit of ancestors and praying for a successful harvest to come. rooted from a  Confucianist point of view, Jesa depicts Koreans’ strong belief in the blessings that come from honoring their passed ancestors. Jesa can be done at home with family, or even be small gatherings around ancestors’ grave sites in a ceremony called Seongmyo (성묘).

Along with ancestral ceremonies, families and communities would gather and play games during Chuseok. Of the many games played, Gang-Gang-Sul-Lae (강강술래) is the most famous. Traditionally, women would sing and dance in a large circle under the full moon. The circular shape symbolizes the full moon of Chuseok, which also represents being abundant and fruitful. The songs were a form of prayer to the moon for a successful harvest season. While all Jesa, Seongmyo, and Gang-Gang-Sul-Lae were ways people enjoyed Chuseok traditionally, the way Koreans celebrate it today has evolved over the years.

In the past, people focused more on specific rituals and keeping the traditions, but present day, the value of Chuseok is more oriented toward spending time with family. In modern times, many people live away from their extended families and hometown; Chuseok has become a holiday to treasure their time together. While fewer people might participate in games like Gang-Gang-Sul-Lae, ancestral ceremonies like Jesa are still practiced and cultural rituals such as celebratory food of Chuseok still linger, along with the core value of giving thanks with family and friends.

Often a highlight of any gathering, Koreans are dedicated to eating deliciously, cooking food and sharing homemade dishes with family and friends. During Chuseok, there are a variety of popular dishes and foods that are prepared and we’ve compiled four of our favorites that you can easily make at home.

송편 Songpyeon: Korean Rice Cake with Filling

Songpyeon is a uniquely Chuseok dish that people only consume during this season of the year. These half-moon-shaped rice cakes are filled with either sweet sesame seed or bean paste and later steamed with pine needles. Just as a half moon can grow to a full moon, the half-moon shape of Songpyeon symbolizes the hope of Koreans for growth and prosperity.

Here is a recipe video that you can follow:

전 Jeon: Korean Pancakes

Photo | May's Magazine

Jeon, a broad term for Korean-style pancakes, is also often served during Chuseok meals. It is easy to make with simple ingredients. There is a wide variety of Jeon styles, often incorporating beef, fish, shrimp, and more. This recipe focuses on two of our personal favorites: Go-Chu-Jeon (Korean Pepper Jeon), and Kkaen-Nip-Jeon (Perilla Leaf Jeon).

For further instructions watch:

잡채 Japchae: Korean Glass Noodle (often known as festival food)

Japchae is a dish that appears at every party, festival, and event in Korea. This glass noodle dish is often fried with vegetables and soy sauce and is loved by all generations.

This recipe shows a simple, easy way to cook Japchae:

갈비찜 Galbi Jjim: Korean Braised Short Ribs

Last, but certainly not least is Galbi Jjim, a braised short rib dish. Slow-cooked and tender, Galbi Jjim is a rich and comforting beef dish that pairs well with most vegetables and rice.

Here is a straightforward way to cook Galbi-jjim: 

Every family might have their own favorite Chuseok dishes they prepare, but at the heart of the celebration is enjoying a meal with loved ones. As society is becoming more and more individualistic, the time spent with extended family is often decreasing with our busy lives and schedules. Having the opportunity to reconnect with family and loved ones has become much more desirable and valued. In that sense, Chuseok is cherished by many Koreans. Even if you cannot see your extended family this holiday, how about giving your parents, and grandparents a call? Or what about cooking one of these recipes with family, friends, or other loved ones? Wherever you are, and whoever you are with, Chuseok is a time to celebrate with a heart of gratitude!

Happy Chuseok Everyone :) 

Lauren Kim