Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy Chuseok!

Today is Chuseok! Chuseok is the Korean Thanksgiving holiday. Traditionally, Koreans spend Chuseok with their families, just like Americans spend Thanksgiving and/or Christmas with ours. It's one of the 2 biggest holidays in the Korean calendar, with New Year's Day being the other important one (or two, considering Lunar New Year is a different date than Solar New Year and families celebrate one and/or both of them).

I've heard a bit about the holiday from my friends in Korea, but since I'm not Korean, I have a limited understanding of Chuseok. I knew from last year that it's tradition to give gifts, celebrate your ancestors, wear Hanbok (traditional Korean dress), eat songpyeon (rice cake), etc. I know that the women are expected to do most of the cooking and cleaning during the holiday and therefore rarely look forward to the 5-day weekend. On Tuesday afternoon, I had a class full of boys and I asked my students a few questions about what they were doing for the break. Only 2 out of 20 boys said that they'd probably help prepare food. I have so much respect for Korean women. I don't know if I could handle the pressure.

To supplement my limited understanding, may I present some more official explanations of this holiday?

Chuseok is one of the year’s most important traditional holidays. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Chuseok is often referred to as Korean Thanksgiving Day. It’s a celebration of the harvest and thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth. Family members come from all over the country to visit their ancestral homes.

Although Chuseok itself is a single day, the holiday period includes the day before and after, involving an array of traditional activities. Early on Chuseok morning, the family gathers together to perform traditional ancestral rites. A feast of traditional Korean foods is prepared for the memorial service, after which everyone enjoys the festive meal and exchanges gifts.

During Chuseok, people nationwide leave the city in order to return back to their family's hometown for the holiday (traditionally to visit paternal relatives). With an amazing 75% of the population on the road during this mass exodus, highways and roads throughout the country are extremely congested. Since train and bus tickets are sold out at least a month in advance, careful planning is an absolute must for anyone planning to travel during the holiday period.

On Chuseok day, everyone gets up early to arrange food on the small, low table set aside for the ancestral memorial rituals. The memorial foods are usually prepared by the women in the days preceding Chuseok.

During the Chuseok holiday, women spend countless hours rushing around working in the homes of in-laws, preparing holiday food, and washing dishes. These taxing chores often lead to physical and psychological symptoms that manifest themselves during the weeks before and after the holiday. Koreans have gone so far as to coin a special term for this set of symptoms: the Chuseok Syndrome. To solve this problem, there are more and more houses where men help preparing food. Moreover, women go to the sauna or spa to release the fatigue and stress.


As I mentioned yesterday, this year I get to experience Chuseok in Korea, rather than spending the break gallivanting around Asia. I'm even sorta glad my travel-in-Korea plans fell through. I'm taking advantage of not going anywhere, for once. My August holidays were spent all over the country, so a break to do nothing but read, watch shows I wanted to watch all summer, do laundry, catch up on work, go hiking, dine with friends, do whatever I darn well please? That sounds perfect right now. I managed to go to the grocery store today, which was a madhouse. Think day before Thanksgiving at home and you've got the day before Chuseok here. Same same.

Since Chuseok = Thanksgiving, lets get some of that going up in here.


I'm thankful for this city. I didn't want to leave Gwangju last February, then this job came up and felt so ordained-by-God that I jumped and trusted the Lord with the rest. Material blessings and the intangibles, it's been beyond what I expected.

I'm thankful for the friendships I've been blessed by. I have a cloud of witnesses around me who encourage, admonish, uplift, love, and point each other toward Jesus. I have a lovely family of friends in Gwangju, I have a lovely family of friends in Jeonju, and I have a lovely family AND family of friends across the Pacific. I'm a blessed, blessed girl.

I'm thankful that I'm ever-changing. As I seek him, God's constantly pruning me, disciplining me, teaching me, growing me, changing me, renewing me. It's so fun! I love that I can look back even 6 months ago and see a lot of progress. The things that change, the things that remain, the balance between them. I feel like a tree. A tree is always a tree, but it doesn't look the same from year to year.


To everyone, have a blessed day of thankfulness, where ever you are. Happy Chuseok! 

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