Chuseok Festival South Korea (Korean Thanksgiving Day)

Chuseok Festival Food

Chuseok Festival, also referred to as Korean Thanksgiving or Harvest Moon Festival, is a time when people pause their bustling lives to honour their ancestors and express appreciation for bountiful harvests. For centuries, Koreans have gathered from near and far to pay tribute to those who came before them while revelling in the beauty of nature’s abundance during this golden season.

During the Chuseok Festival, families reunite under one roof, embracing each other’s warmth with open arms. The sound of laughter echoes through generations as children eagerly participate in traditional activities such as making Songpyeon (a delicious rice cake) or playing folk games like Ssireum (Korean wrestling). Alongside these customs comes an array of captivating performances showcasing ancient arts like Pungmul nori (traditional drumming) and Ganggangsullae (a circle dance).

Beyond its cultural significance lies a sense of national unity that permeates throughout South Korea during this festive occasion. Streets are adorned with colorful lanterns illuminating the night sky while communities come alive with traditional music reverberating through every corner.

Facts About The Chuseok Festival South Korea

FactsBrief Explanation
Name of the FestivalChuseok
Type of FestivalCultural and Harvest Festival
City of OriginAlthough Chuseok is celebrated throughout South Korea, its origins are deeply rooted in agricultural practices traditionally associated with the rural areas of the country.
Festival Etymology“Chuseok” means “Autumn eve” in Korean, referring to the harvest time.
Date When It Was Celebrated FirstEarly 10th century during the Goryeo Dynasty
Founder of the FestivalNot attributed to a single founder; it has been a traditional Korean harvest festival for centuries.
Brief History of the FestivalChuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving Day, is a major harvest festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. It is a time for families to come together, give thanks for the harvest, and pay homage to their ancestors. The festival includes traditional food, folk games, and rituals like Charye (ancestor memorial services) and Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves).
Brief History of the City Where It Is CelebratedAs Chuseok is celebrated nationwide, each city has its history and contribution to the Korean culture. Seoul, the capital city, for instance, has been the political, economic, and cultural center of Korea for centuries, dating back to 18 BCE when it was founded as the capital of the Baekje Kingdom.
Ethnic Information of the City and RegionSouth Korea is predominantly ethnically homogeneous, with the majority of its population being ethnic Koreans. There is a small percentage of foreign residents.
Location of the City in the CountryThe festival is celebrated across South Korea. Seoul, the capital, is located in the northwest part of the country, near the Han River.
How to Reach the CityMajor international flights arrive at Incheon International Airport, which is well-connected to Seoul and other cities via express train, bus, and taxi services.
Nearby and Surrounding Cities or Towns and Their Distance from the City– Incheon (28 km west of Seoul)
– Suwon (30 km south of Seoul)
– Goyang (19 km north of Seoul)
– Seongnam (25 km southeast of Seoul)
Google Map Link to the City LocationGoogle Maps Link to Seoul
Main Events and Activities– Traditional ancestral rites (Charye)
– Visiting ancestral graves (Seongmyo)
– Wearing traditional Korean dress (Hanbok)
– Playing folk games (e.g., ssireum wrestling, tug-of-war)
– Sharing a feast of traditional Korean foods
Famous Tourist Attractions and Landmarks– Gyeongbokgung Palace (A historic royal palace at the heart of Seoul)
– N Seoul Tower (An iconic tower offering panoramic views of Seoul)
– Bukchon Hanok Village (A traditional Korean village in Seoul)
– Insadong (A neighborhood famous for its traditional Korean crafts, foods, and tea houses)
Famous Food Dishes of the City– Kimchi (Fermented vegetables, a Korean staple)
– Bulgogi (Marinated beef barbecue)
– Bibimbap (Rice mixed with meat, vegetables, egg, and chili pepper paste)
Related Festivals in the Same RegionSeollal (Korean New Year; also involves family gatherings and ancestral rites)
– Daeboreum (The first full moon festival)

History and Origins of Chuseok

The origins of Chuseok can be traced to the Silla Dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD) when people would celebrate the bountiful autumn harvest by offering thanks to their ancestors. It was believed that during this time, spirits could return to Earth and bless their descendants with good fortune.

See also  Daeboreum Festival South Korea(First Full Moon Festival)

Over time, Chuseok evolved into a celebration of family and community unity. Families would gather at ancestral grave sites and perform rituals honoring their deceased loved ones. They would offer food, drinks, and other offerings as a way to pay respect and express gratitude for their ancestors’ blessings.

In addition to its cultural significance, Chuseok also holds historical importance. During the Three Kingdoms period in Korea (57 BC – 668 AD), it became customary for farmers to bring rice cakes called “songpyeon” to military camps as provisions for soldiers defending the kingdom.

Traditional Customs and Activities

Hangul Calligraphy

The Chuseok Festival celebrated in South Korea, is rich in traditional customs and activities that have been passed down through generations. Here’s a detailed overview of traditional customs and activities associated with Chuseok:

Ancestral Memorial Services (Charye)

A ritual performed at home to honor ancestors with offerings of food and drink on a ritual table.

  • Significance: It’s a way to pay respects to ancestors, showing gratitude for their blessings and remembering their contributions to the family’s current prosperity.

Visiting Ancestral Graves (Seongmyo and Beolcho)

Families visit the graves of their ancestors to clean the areas around them, a ritual known as Beolcho, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors.

  • Significance: This practice strengthens family unity and honors ancestors’ spirits, ensuring their lasting legacy and support for the living relatives.

Making and Sharing Songpyeon

Songpyeon are half-moon-shaped rice cakes, made from glutinous rice and filled with sweet or semi-sweet fillings like chestnuts, red beans, or sesame seeds.

  • Significance: The act of making Songpyeon is a communal activity that fosters family togetherness. The rice cakes symbolize a wish for a prosperous future and fullness.
See also  Seollal Festival South Korea (Korean New Year)

Playing Folk Games

Traditional games such as Ssireum (Korean wrestling), tug-of-war, and Yutnori (a board game using wooden sticks) are played.

  • Significance: These games provide entertainment and leisure, promoting physical health and community spirit among participants.

Wearing Hanbok

Family members often wear Hanbok, traditional Korean attire, during Chuseok.

  • Significance: Wearing Hanbok represents respect for one’s cultural heritage and brings a festive atmosphere to the celebrations.

Performing Ganggangsullae

A traditional dance where women dressed in Hanbok form a circle under the full moon and sing together.

  • Significance: Originally a harvest ritual, Ganggangsullae is now performed to wish for peace and a good harvest, symbolizing unity and cooperation among community members.

Sharing a Feast of Traditional Korean Foods

Families prepare and share a feast that includes dishes like Japchae, Bulgogi, and various types of Jeon and Kimchi.

  • Significance: The feast is a way to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, enjoy the fruits of communal labor, and strengthen family bonds through shared meals.


It is customary to exchange gifts among families and friends during Chuseok.

  • Significance: The exchange of gifts is a way to express gratitude, respect, and good wishes for one another, reinforcing social ties.

Traditional Food Of Chuseok

Chuseok South Korea
Chuseok South Korea

One of the most iconic dishes during Chuseok is Songpyeon, a type of rice cake filled with sweet ingredients like sesame seeds, red beans, or chestnuts. These small crescent-shaped treats are steamed over pine needles for added flavour and fragrance.

Another popular dish is jeon, which refers to various types of Korean pancakes made with different ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, or meat. Jeon is often enjoyed alongside other traditional foods like japchae (stir-fried glass noodles), bulgogi (marinated grilled beef), and galbijjim (braised short ribs).

Food ItemMain IngredientsDescriptionCultural Significance
SongpyeonGlutinous rice flour, sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beansA half-moon-shaped rice cake, steamed over pine needles for a unique flavor.Symbolizes the full moon and family unity. Represents wishes for a prosperous future.
JeonVarious (fish, meat, vegetables)Korean-style pancake. Ingredients are coated in flour and egg wash, then pan-fried.Served during major holidays as a celebratory food. Represents harmony and abundance.
JapchaeSweet potato starch noodles, beef, vegetables (spinach, carrots, onions)Stir-fried noodles with a savory and slightly sweet flavor.A festive dish that symbolizes wealth and health due to its colorful appearance.
BulgogiThinly sliced beef, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlicMarinated beef grilled or pan-fried.Represents the generosity and abundance of the harvest.
GalbijjimBeef short ribs, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, sesame oilBraised beef ribs in a sweet and savory sauce.A luxurious dish reflecting the celebration of gathering and thanksgiving.
Nabak KimchiRadish, red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, scallionsA watery kimchi made with thinly sliced radish.Symbolizes harmony and balance. The red and white colors represent good luck and purity.
Baechu KimchiNapa cabbage, chili pepper, garlic, ginger, fish sauceThe most common type of kimchi, fermented and spicy.An essential Korean side dish, signifying the strength and preservation of Korean culture.
MakgeolliRice, water, nuruk (fermentation starter)A milky, sweet, and slightly tangy alcoholic beverage.Represents the agricultural heritage of Korea and is often consumed during celebrations.

In addition to these savory delights, Chuseok also offers a variety of seasonal fruits, such as persimmons and pears. These fruits symbolize abundance and prosperity.

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To wash down all the delicious food, Koreans indulge in traditional drinks like makgeolli (rice wine) and soju (clear distilled liquor). These beverages add an extra touch of festivity to the celebrations.

Celebrating Chuseok in Modern Times

Chuseok continues to be a cherished and significant holiday in modern times. While the festival’s roots lie deep within Korean history, it has evolved over the years to incorporate new customs and activities.

  • One of the most notable changes in celebrating Chuseok today is the emphasis on family reunions. People from all corners of South Korea make an effort to travel back to their hometowns during this time, creating a sense of unity and connection among loved ones. It is a time for families to come together, share stories, and strengthen bonds.
  • In addition to traditional customs such as visiting ancestors’ gravesites and making offerings, modern celebrations often include games and performances that showcase Korea’s cultural heritage. Traditional music concerts or folk dance performances are common during Chuseok festivities, offering both locals and tourists a chance to experience Korea’s rich traditions.
  • Food also plays a central role in Chuseok celebrations. Families gather around beautifully set tables filled with an array of delicious dishes known as “songpyeon,” which are rice cakes stuffed with various fillings like sesame seeds or chestnuts. These delectable treats symbolize abundance and gratitude for the harvest season.

With technological advancements shaping our lives today, there has been an increased use of digital platforms to connect with loved ones who may be physically distant during Chuseok.

Video calls have become popular ways for families separated by distance or work commitments to come together virtually and celebrate this special occasion.

Travelling to South Korea For the Festival

Chuseok festivities typically span three days, including the day before and the day after the main festival day. Planning your arrival a few days earlier and staying a few days later can enhance your experience, allowing you to explore more of what South Korea has to offer beyond the festival itself.

Travel Tips

  • Book Early: Flights and accommodations fill up quickly due to the mass travel of Koreans during this period.
  • Use Public Transport: Traffic can be heavy during Chuseok. Public transportation is a reliable way to navigate around the country.
  • Learn Basic Phrases: Knowing basic Korean phrases can enhance your travel experience, especially in less urbanized areas.

Where to Stay

Since Chuseok is a nationwide holiday, every part of South Korea has its unique way of celebrating it. Seoul, being the capital, offers numerous events, cultural performances, and traditional games. However, smaller towns and rural areas provide a more intimate experience of the festival’s traditions.

Booking accommodation in advance is crucial as this is a peak travel period for Koreans returning to their hometowns.

Experiencing Chuseok Traditions

  • Visit Heritage Sites: Many palaces and traditional villages in Seoul, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village, host special events and activities during Chuseok. You can witness ancestral rites, folk games, and traditional performances.
  • Making Songpyeon: Participate in making Songpyeon, a traditional Korean rice cake, at cultural centers or local community events. This hands-on activity provides insight into Korean culinary traditions.
  • Traditional Dress: Rent a Hanbok, the traditional Korean attire, to immerse yourself fully in the festivities. Many tourists and locals don Hanbok to visit palaces and historical sites, especially during Chuseok.
  • Folk Games and Performances: Engage in or watch traditional Korean folk games like Ssireum (wrestling) or enjoy performances of Samulnori (percussion music) and Talchum (mask dance).

Culinary Delights

Chuseok is synonymous with feasting. Markets and restaurants offer seasonal and traditional foods. Don’t miss out on trying:

  • Jeon (Korean pancakes)
  • Japchae (stir-fried glass noodles)
  • Bulgogi (marinated grilled beef)
  • Galbijjim (braised short ribs)
  • And, of course, Songpyeon.

Travel Tips

  • Book Early: Flights and accommodations can fill up quickly due to the mass travel of Koreans during this period.
  • Use Public Transport: With the potential for heavy traffic, public transportation is a reliable way to get around. Korea’s extensive train and bus network can take you almost anywhere in the country.
  • Learn Basic Phrases: Knowing basic Korean phrases will enhance your travel experience, especially in rural areas.

Cultural Respect

Chuseok is a time of family gatherings and honoring ancestors. While participating in the festivities, it’s important to show respect for local customs and traditions. Observing rituals and asking permission before taking photos of people or private ceremonies is a good practice.

Beyond Chuseok

South Korea has much to offer beyond the Chuseok celebrations. Plan to visit its bustling cities, tranquil countryside, and scenic natural attractions. Exploring regions like Jeju Island, Busan, and the historical city of Gyeongju can provide a well-rounded experience of Korea’s beauty and heritage.

When Chuseok Festival South Korea 2024 will be celeberated?

Chuseok in 2024, following the lunar calendar used to determine its date, will be celebrated on the 17th of September. This festival, which spans three days.

Activities During The Chuseok Festival

SamulnoriA traditional percussion performance involving four instruments, symbolizing weather elements.
TalchumA mask dance drama that conveys historical or moral tales, often performed in villages.
GanggangsullaeA circle dance under the moon, enhancing community unity and blessing for abundance.
SsireumTraditional Korean wrestling, showcasing strength and technique is often held during village festivals.
Songpyeon MakingPreparing special rice cakes shaped like a full moon, signifying prosperity and good fortune.
CharyeAncestral memorial rites, offering food and drink to ancestors to pay respects and gratitude.
YutnoriA board game played with wooden sticks, encouraging strategic thinking and family bonding.

Interesting Facts About The Chuseok Festival South Korea

Here are ten not-so-well-known, surprising, and interesting facts about this vibrant festival:

  • ๐ŸŒ• It’s based on the lunar calendar: Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon.
  • ๐Ÿก Special cuisine – Songpyeon: During Chuseok, Koreans make a special kind of rice cake called Songpyeon, which is steamed with pine needles to give it a distinctive flavor.
  • ๐ŸŒพ Harvest celebrations: Originally, Chuseok was a festival to celebrate the harvest and to thank the ancestors for providing the fruits of the earth.
  • ๐Ÿ‘˜ Wearing Hanbok: It is traditional for Koreans to wear Hanbok, the Korean traditional attire, during Chuseok holidays.
  • ๐Ÿ Visit to ancestral graves: Chuseok is also a time for ‘Charye’, a memorial service for ancestors, which often includes visiting and tidying up ancestral graves, known as ‘Beolcho’.
  • ๐ŸŽ‘ Ganggangsullae Dance: This ancient dance, performed under the full moon, was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. It’s a circle dance where women hold hands and sing together.
  • ๐ŸŽฎ Folk games and contests: Traditional games like ‘ssireum’ (Korean wrestling), archery, and folk music and dance performances are common during Chuseok.
  • ๐ŸŒŒ Wish-making rituals: There’s a tradition of making wishes while viewing the full moon, which is believed to bring good fortune.
  • ๐Ÿš‚ Mass exodus and travel chaos: Chuseok triggers one of the largest annual mass exoduses in South Korea, as millions travel to their hometowns, leading to heavily congested roads and public transportation.
  • ๐ŸŽ Gift-giving culture: Exchanging gifts is a significant part of Chuseok. Common gifts include high-quality fruit, Korean beef, health products, and traditional sweets and honey.

Conclusion and Invitation to Experience Chuseok

Chuseok Festival in South Korea celebrates cultural heritage, honouring ancestors and the harvest with family gatherings, traditional food, and activities. It’s a chance to engage with Korean traditions, unity, and values. Experience colourful lanterns, ancestral rituals, folk games, and culinary delights like Songpyeon and bulgogi during this vibrant holiday.

Chuseok is a profound insight into Korean culture, emphasizing family, respect for ancestors, and natureโ€™s gifts. Explore this enriching festival for a memorable cultural journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is Chuseok celebrated in South Korea?

Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which typically falls in September or October on the Gregorian calendar.

What is the meaning of Chuseok?

Chuseok is a traditional Korean holiday that celebrates the autumn harvest and pays respect to ancestors. It is often referred to as the Korean version of Thanksgiving.

What are some traditional customs associated with Chuseok?

Some traditional customs include visiting ancestral gravesites, making and sharing Songpyeon rice cakes, wearing hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), and participating in folk games and performances.

What is the significance of songpyeon rice cakes during Chuseok?

Songpyeon rice cakes are a symbol of gratitude and unity, as they are made and shared among family members to honor ancestors and express thanks for the bounty of the harvest. They also represent wishes for a bountiful and prosperous future. ย The half-moon shape of the rice cakes is also believed to represent the wish for a bountiful future.

How long is the Chuseok Festival in South Korea?

The Chuseok Festival is typically celebrated for three days, with the main day falling on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.

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