Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving)

Autumn in Korea, a lovely time to meet friends and fam, warm enough to enjoy the crisp air but cold enough to seek the warmth of close ones around you. Feasting round a delightful spread, relishing in the fresh harvest of the season. Chuseok is one of those times coming up soon!  A mid-autumnal annual harvest festival where everyone takes a couple days off work and heads back to meet their family. A “Korean Thanksgiving”, if you will. Despite edging closer to spring right now in Melbourne, it is always possible to enjoy these good times. 

Chuseok’s origins takes us back to close to two millennia ago when the Silla kingdom used to conduct a month-long weaving contest between teams. Winner got to feast at the expense of the losers! However, some also believe that celebrations around the harvest were offered as part of worship to local deities at the time of the harvest moon.

During this time, you wouldn’t want to be in a Korean airport, railway station or a bus! Everyone travels back home and tickets are booked out months in advance. Once everyone arrives, a whole feast of activities and rituals are in session. Koreans hold memorial services called charye, offering food and best of the harvest to their forefathers and simultaneously visit their ancestors’ graves to pay tribute.

To accompany, these traditions a whole sweep of activities such as wrestling games called Ssireum, village tug-of-war and traditional folk dancing are held.  But since the festival is mainly about community and the harvest, food is by far the thing on everyone’s mind. 

Chuseok is a time when a few dishes, that aren’t seen on regular Korean staple, come out the table. Traditional rice cakes called songpyeon, stuffed with sesame seeds, black beans, sweet red bean paste, cinnamon and honey are made with family recipes with the crème de la crème of the harvest to show appreciation.

Koreans have bluntly stated that their Chuseok celebrations would be in part void without songpyeon. Hangwa or “Korean confectionary” is munched down by everyone; old and young! Hangwa literally equals to candy and there are a billion varieties enjoyed during this time. From the more traditional “dasik” that is eaten as a part of a tea ceremony to the jelly desserts like gwapyeon and the chewy fruit jerky like jjeongwa and who cannot forget Dangryu the hard sugary goodness. But no Korean festivity would be complete without alcohol!

Baekseju is the drink of choice, literally meaning “white liquor” made from rice produced in the harvest. Baekseju is made with a combination of herbs and flavorings that are purported to guarantee a long life! The jury is out if that is true or not but it sure does go well spicy grill (gui).