Chuseok is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea. Family members from all over the country come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors. In 2016, Chuseok Day falls on September 15. This year’s full holiday period will take place for five days from September 14 to 18, including a weekend.
Meanwhile, there is what families ought to do just before welcoming Chuseok: Beolcho.
“Beolcho” is the act of cleaning the family memorial site before Chuseok. Weeds that have grown around the graves of deceased family members all summer long must be picked and discarded. On the day of Chuseok, family members visit their ancestors’ graves in order to pay their respects.
Kim, a 50 year-old man living in Cheong-ju of South Korea, did Beolcho with family members on September 3th. “I am happy to clean the memorial site with family members. After finishing Beolcho, we enjoyed lunch and had great time sharing stories,” he said. Furthermore, “I feel really great seeing the neat graves after about five to six hours of working hard,” he added.
The primary reason for Chuseok in South Korea is to not only honour ancestors and deceased relatives, but serve the purpose of keeping the family together during times when work and other obligations may separate people.
Traditionally, Chuseok allowed South Koreans to celebrate the Autumn harvest after a season of hard work..
Special food in Chuseok is ‘songpyeon’, a rice cake formed to hold sesame seeds, beans and other traditional ingredients. The small cakes are tinted with various colors and steamed while sitting on a layer of pine needles.
In addition, people play many traditional games:
Ganggangsullae is performed on the night of Chuseok of a full moon. Children or women, who dress in traditional clothing called ‘Hanbok’, move in a circle while holding hands and slowly form other shapes as the dance progresses. One movement involves two dancers who make a bridge with their hands while the dancers file through under the bridge.
Sonori is when two people throw on a cape made of hanji, which is a traditional Korean paper, and run around town under the guise of a cow, going from house to house and asking for food.
Ssireum is when two competitors face each other in the middle of a circular sandpit and try to knock his opponent off his feet first, using his strength and skills and running through a one-on-one tournament.
Sossaum is when people incite a fight between two cows. It is to show how they have been eating and grown well during spring and summer.
The traditional games are sadly disappearing in modern society. I’d like to suggest that we should play the games every Chuseok in order to preserve the spirits of the ancestors.