Korean Thanksgiving Day (Chuseok)
Koreans have most likely heard the word Chuseok at least once in their lives. In American words, Chuseok has the same meaning as the holiday in American known as Thanksgiving Day. There is no exact record of when Chuseok began, but it is presumed to have started around the Korean Three Kingdoms Period. According to history, people celebrated this day to express thanks for grace to their ancestors on September 13th every year.
There are typically three religions which celebrate Chuseok; Confucianism, Buddhism, and Catholicism. These three religions observe the same holiday, but their grounds for celebrating are very different. Confucianism believes that filial duty, which is the respect of one’s parents, elders, and ancestors, is the best virtue, and its fundamental spirit is due to this. All rituals in Confucianism are symbolic expressions of filial piety, to serve the dead with the utmost sincerity, and when the Divine Spirit devours the thanksgiving service he blesses the descendants from heaven. In addition, the stance of the blessed descendant is that he responds to the spirit by not monopolizing the blessing, but by dividing it with the neighbors and further making life a fragrant offering. Fundamentally, Chuseok took its roots from not only Confucianism, but Buddhism as well. Buddhism emphasizes that their meaning of Chuseok is the courtesy of offering sacrifices to heaven and to our ancestors. It briefly recounts the life of one’s ancestors, the harmony of the descendants, prosperity of all the people, and the desire for the kingdom of Buddha to be established. Only Catholicism had different ideas about Chuseok before 1939. They thought that a ceremony to their ancestors was superstitious, and therefore it was banned. After 1939, the Catholic pope set a religious dogma that ceremony to the ancestor is a cultural tradition, and agreed to allow its practice. In North Korea, their Chuseok culture is different from that in South Korea, such as the period of time and the way the ceremony is completed. Since in North Korea the celebration only occurs for one day, during Chuseok the people must prepare their own food to use at the ceremony, where they visit their ancestors’ graves.
On Chuseok, it is not just the observance, as people may also play folk games such as neolttwigi, ganggangsulae, yut, ssireum, and jianzi. During Chuseok, most Koreans who meet together like to play yut, a traditional board game, or neolttwigi, an outdoor game similar to seesaw in American culture. These games are often played during Chuseok, and are the representative of folk games in Korea. In particular, games such as yut and jianzi do not need many people to be gathered together, so you can enjoy them regardless of if your group is small or large. These two folk games are still played by most people who live in Korea, and help them to enjoy or remember happy Chuseok!
According to the students who are Korean second-generation, about half of them celebrate Chuseok, while the others do not observe the holiday at all. One of the students who will not take Chuseok this year stated, “My family celebrates American Thanksgiving Day. That makes it hard to gather everyone together for Chuseok, since the two holidays have the same meaning.” Many of the students’ whose families did not observe the holiday stated that it was for this reason. In fact, Chuseok and Thanksgiving have almost same meaning, thanks for the harvest of grain. However, for Korean Chuseok, the ceremony normally starts with dedication to their ancestors, and then all gather to eat with thanks, and after people play games like yut or jianzi. For American Thanksgiving usually a family will cook for the majority of the day, and then in the evening they will all gather around to eat and say thanks. After eating dinner, many, like in the Korean Chuseok, will then gather around to play games and to spend time together as a family.
Yoseop Kim, Grade 10
Crescenta Valley High School