Holiday Traditions

Happy Monday everyone!  Did you have a good weekend?

With Halloween over, I am officially in the winter holiday mode.  The weather here is starting to get really cold very quickly, and it’s making me a little homesick.  I love fall in the Pacific Northwest, especially the time I get to spend with my family participating in our traditional activities of the season, like roasting pumpkin seeds, cooking Thanksgiving dinner together, and watching Christmas Vacation at least once.  So, I thought, what a better time than when I’m longing for the traditions I’m accustomed to to learn about the holiday traditions of Korea!

There are two major holidays here, 추석(Chuseok) and설날 (Seollal), with a bunch of small holidays throughout the year as well.  It seems that about once a month there is a day off from school and work (for some).  In fact, last month there were two:  National Foundation Day on the 3rd and Hangul Day on the 9th.   Most holidays are based on the Lunar calendar, so the dates on the Roman calendar change every year.

Chuseok, or the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar calendar, which, this year, fell on September 8th.  However, it is usually celebrated over the course of three to four days.  It is often compared to the American Thanksgiving, as well as other harvest festivals from around the world.  Families travel back to their hometowns to be with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, etc.

Ancestral Rites and offering table (

Over the Chuseok holiday, many rituals are performed.  In the morning, everyone gathers in the home of either a grandparent or the eldest son’s house to hold a memorial service for their ancestors, thanking them for the harvest.  A table is set offering foods such as uncooked rice, alcohol, and songpyeon (rice cakes with fillings suchs as red beans, chestnuts, sesame seeds, etc.).  Many also visit their ancestors graves and to clean and rid them of the weeds that have grown over the summer.  Some people also dress up in Hanboks, traditional Korean clothing that are usually brightly colored.

There are a ton of games that are played by children and adults alike.  I got to play a version of Yut, a board game, a few weeks ago with some friends, and it was a lot of fun!  You throw four sticks, each with a round side and a flat side, and depending on how they land, you get to move a certain amount of spaces on the board.  Another cool game that is played is called Ssireum, or Korean wrestling.  Two people stand in a sand pit and face off to see who can pin the other on the ground on their back.  It’s a lot of fun to watch!  Here is a clip from the Korean reality show Running Man (although, for, I assume, entertainment purposes, they are playing in a mud pond).

Seollal is very similar to Chuseok on the surface, but is celebrated on the Lunar New Year, which in 2015 will be on February 19th.  One of the big differences between the two is the food!  Fresh meat, fruit, and wild herbs are prepared as an offering, and a traditional meal of tteokguk is prepared.  Tteokguk is a beef soup with rice cakes, and once you finish your bowl, you are considered another year older!  The rice cakes symbolize purity (from the bright white color of the rice cake) and longevity (from the long length of the rice cake before it’s cut).  Younger generations then perform a deep bow, or sebae, to the elders, and offer gifts in exchange for blessings in the new year, as well as money.

My family is Chinese, so we celebrate Lunar New Year as well, however usually with just a large family dinner.  I am a little sad I won’t be able to spend this year in the kitchen with my mom, but I’m excited to experience it here with a different culture.  Do any of you celebrate Lunar New Year too?  What is your favorite holiday and/or tradition that you or your family celebrate?

Happy November!  Stay warm and healthy!

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