Korean Thanksgiving Day

Harvest moon festival (Korea)

     The fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month is Ch'usok, the Harvest Moon Festival, a time of thanksgiving. Also called Chungch'ujol, meaning "mid-autumn day," and Han-gawi, the origin of which is unclear, it is a time for families to get together at the oldest male member's house for a great feast to celebrate the new harvest and more importantly, to offer thanks and to show respect to Nature and to their ancestors.

     Ch'usok is believed to have originated in the first century A.D. During to reign of Yuri-wang of the Shilla Kingdom, a month-long weaving festival was held in the capital, Kyongju. For the contest, the king divided the city into two teams and appointed princesses to lead them. The king announced the winner on the day of the eighth full moon and the losing team had to provide food, drink, and entertainment for the winning team and a party involving the whole city ensued.

     Regardless of origin, Ch'usok and its related customs are undeniably important to Koreans. And when Ch'usok dawns, they don't their best outfits and, like generations before them, begin a series of rituals and activities culminating in gazing at the full moon.

     The first order of the day is to pay homage to the ancestors with a feast of foods made from the new harvest. It is offered in solemn rites called Ch'arye. Among the offerings are watery radish Kimch'i, meat, fish, chestnuts, persimmons, jujubes, pears, apples, and the specialty of the day, stuffed rice cakes called Songp'yon. The rice cakes, which are shaped like a half moon, are made of dough made of flour milled from newly harvested rice, and steamed on a layer of freshly picked pine needles. The pine needles give the rice cakes a nice fragrance and help preserve them. The fillings vary from region to region but the most common are sesame seeds, chestnuts, beans and jujubes.

     On Ch'usok, it is customary to visit the graves of one's ancestors to pay respect with bows and food offerings. It is also a time to cut the grass and pull up weeds on and around the grave.

     There are a number of games and dances associated with Ch'usok, which, in the past, helped to strengthen neighborly relations and promote community spirit. Among the most notable is Kobuk-nori, the tortoise game. In this game, or nori, the Kobuk, or tortoise, is two men on their hands and knees covered with a large shell made of straw or corn leaves. The tortoise is driven like an ox from house to house throughout the village by a group of men to entertain and be entertained in return. The tortoise dances and performs antics for a while and then collapses, pretending to be hungry and exhausted. The householder then treats everyone with food and drink and they all sing and dance together.


     Kanggangsuwollae is a circle dance performed by women in the southwestern past of Korea. it supposedly developed from a trick women played on Japanese invaders in the sixteenth century by dancing around fires in the evening to make them believe their target was well defended. The lyrics of the song the dancers sing express desires for happiness, longevity and love while describing typical household scenes. The refrain, kanggangsuwollae, means 
"watch or guard the surroundings. "However, being traditionally associated with Ch'usok, it is not improbable that it originated as a dance of joy for an abundant harvest.

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Bo-Kyung  11/21/2001