For the past three days I have been enjoying the Chuseok holiday in Seoul. This year Chuseok Day took place in the middle of the week on Wednesday September, 22nd. Most Korean companies gave their employee’s off the 21st through the 23rd to celebrate.
In short, I learned from my students that Chuseok is a holiday where people return to their hometowns to pay respect to their families. The three day extravaganza is marked by many interesting, fun, and stressful customs.
You know its Chuseok when:
1. There is spam everywhere- I have heard jokes from my friends that my company would provide a Chuseok present of Spam. Luckily, my company was cheap this year and skipped the gifts. But there was clearly no shortage of Spam, as it was on display in every store window I walked by. The funny thing about the Spam is that it will run you a steep $29.
2. The older women are stressed- Apparently when Korean families get together over this holiday the women are expected to cook up an enormous feast. Most of the older women in my class stated that they love Chuseok, when its over! They informed me that the traditional Korean dishes are very hard to prepare and take lots of planning and time.
3. You see Songpyeon everywhere- Because I live in a very historic area of Seoul, Jongno and Insadong in particular are famous for making the traditional rice cake treats known as Songpyeon. Walking to work a couple days before the holiday, I realized that the traditional “dessert” stores were going crazy with the amount of food they were cooking up! A few days later I realized that they had been shipping out boxes of Songpyeon and other delicious Korean treats to all of Korea. I am personally not a fan of the chewy rice cake balls.
4. People are playing weird folk games- All along the Cheonggyecheon stream you will see many people playing traditional games. They don’t make much sense to many Westerners, but the Koreans seemed to be having a blast. One of the games looked like a version of a dradle where a man would try to spin a ball with a stick on the ground. According to the Official Site of The Korea Tourism Board, this game is called “Paengi-chigi” (팽이치기, top spinning). There was also another version of the glitziest hacky sack you have ever seen called “Jegi-chagi” (제기차기, Korean hacky sac).
5. People are wearing Chuseokbim outfits- My students explained to me that in traditional households the father’s would give his family members a new dress once a year on this day. Many families have pictures taken in the outfits, and if you wear the dress on Chuseok Day you get free admission to the many temples in Seoul. The young girl I snapped a photo of was like a local celebrity and everyone wanted a picture of her!
6. Seoul seems very empty- I was told that Seoul would seem weird because so many people leave during the holiday. This was true for the most part, expect for in historic areas such as Jongno which hosts many events around the famous temples. I later learned that on the third day of the holiday many Koreans go hiking at Bukansan Mountain. I will post a separate blog about this packed but absolutely amazing hiking destination!