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The Great Family Festival of Chuseok Approaches
Korean families around the world are preparing for a family gathering on a massive scale as the greatest gathering, a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas, draws closer. The glorious food, warm feelings and celebration of family tradition that make up this holiday will continue from September 17 th to 19 th.
Chuseok has many similarities to America's Thanksgiving holiday. Chuseok serves as a means of giving thanks for the bounty of autumn harvest. Koreans do not eat turkey, an animal that did not exist in Korea sixty years ago, but rather a myriad of rice products such as rice cakes and rice beverages?as well as simple rice.
The origins of Chuseok remain obscure. The festival dates back to ancient times with the full autumn moon had great spiritual meaning for the Korean people.
If we imagine an age before electricity or other modern amenities, the full moon at the time of the harvest was an awesome sight indeed that overwhelmed the viewer. The moon reaches its brightest on August 15th of the lunar calendar, and in the cold and clear air of fall, its cool rays embraced the world. Koreans feasted and danced with family and friends to celebrate the years harvest under the full moon.
Every Chuseok Koreans pile into cars, buses and trains to return to their hometown. The visit is absolutely obligatory and everyone leaves at the same time. Many spend ten or more hours on backed-up highways rushing to see relatives. Often they spend more time traveling than they have to be together.
The holiday is quite moving for families separated most of the year, especially as so many young people have moved to Seoul, but at the same time, it is also a source of immense stress for those traveling, and those preparing the elaborate festivities. To be on the safe side, many reserve a ticket a year in advance, or at least a few months in advance. Often the trip is so difficult that some are unable to be there for the holiday.
Although the trip is stressful, it all seems worthwhile once one is at home and surrounded by family. The holiday starts off with the ancestral rite called 'Charae.' Offerings are set before an altar representing the ancestors of the family. The tables are filled with a variety of traditional dishes which serve as an offering. The members of the Korean family thank their ancestors for the abundance of autumn harvest.
Then it's time for the grand feast. Unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas, it is breakfast, not supper, that is the climax of the festival. Family members select delicacies that embody the harvest such as rice produces, grains and fruits.
After this enjoyable experience, A visit to the graves of the ancestors follows this moment of family harmony. Families offer soju, a Korean alcoholic drink, to the deceased ancestors. They then share the task of plucking out the weeds and taking care of the overgrown grass near the grave.
Now, it' finally time for some fun. Nowadays, children have turned away from traditional games and dances, but many still do try them. The most common traditional dance is Ganggangsullae. In hand-in hand, children run around in circles while singing a song. Traditionally, village women initiated the dance under a full moon.
Another example of entertainment is Juldarigi, which is commonly shown in American culture as well. The family members divide into two teams and draw a line right in the middle. And the next step is?pulling: the team that can pull all opponents onto their side wins.
It's that simple and it also unites the family members as a whole. More than any other holiday, there are elaborate myths regarding Chuseok. There is a saying that if someone can make a good-looking rice cake, they will eventually meet a matching spouse, but great consequences follow an ugly-looking one. Every one gives their greatest effort to create the best for this is a popular myth.
The rice cakes called 'Songpyun' are an essential part of the Chuseok menu.
Although the terrible traffic and the overwhelming crowds of people can be painful to get through, Chuseok presents more than enough reasons to look forward to it. It brings back the families once again to their hometowns next year?for another time of traditional excitement and appreciation.
By Chi-hyun Cho