Korean Language Blog

Korean Thanksgiving – Chuseok Posted by on Sep 23, 2020 in Culture

Did you know that there are still a few things that South Korea and North Korea share in spite of over 70 years of separation? One of them is that both countries still celebrate two major Korean holidays. One is 설날 (Seollal: Lunar New Year’s Day) and the other is 추석 (Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day). Koreans celebrate these two major holidays in the 음력 (eum-ryuk: lunar calendar).

2020 has been crazy, nevertheless 추석 is coming soon. Every 음력 15th of August is 추석. In 2020, 1st of October will be 추석. Today, I am going to compare the ways 추석 is celebrated between South Korea and North Korea. 


Image by Pixabay


Chuseok and Chuseok Food

In South Korea, 추석 is one of the biggest family holidays. Most people take a break from work and spend time with family. 75% of Koreans travel to their home, which creates the worst traffic jams on the road. Although, the most exciting thing about 추석 in my memory is holiday food. 송편 (Song-pyun: half-moon shaped rice cake), 갈비찜 (gal-bi-jjim: slow cooked braised short ribs), 잡채 (jap-chae: glass noodle), 전(Jeon: pancake) and 나물무침 (nah-mul-moo-chim: seasoned vegetables), and many other great culinary treats. You will get well fed on 추석. 


Image by Pixabay


In North Korea, there are two types of holidays. One is 민속명절 (min-sok-myung-jeol: a folk holiday) and the other one is 사회주의명절 (sah-hoew-joo-eu-myung-jeol: a socialist holiday). 추석 is an official holiday in North Korea. However, North Koreans don’t consider 추석 as a big holiday as South Koreans do because 추석 in North Korea is 민속명절.  North Koreans eat 송편, 전, 고사리무침 (goh-sah-ri-moo-chim: seasoned bracken) and 밤단자 (bahm-dahn-jah: chestnut rice cake). I have never heard of 밤단자 before, but it sounds delicious. It is made of 찹쌀가루 (chop-ssal-gah-roo: glutinous rice powder), honey and chestnut.  


How is 추석 Celebrated?

추석 is usually a three-day holiday in South Korea. Traditionally, the South Korean women in each family usually make 차례음식 (cha-rye-eum-sik: food for ancestral rite) the day before 추석. On the day of  추석, family members have 성묘 (seong-myoe: a memorial ceremony for their ancestors) at home. It is not uncommon to travel to their ancestor’s’ graves to have the ceremony. Afterwards, they eat 차례음식 with family and play 전통놀이 (jeon-tong-no-ree: a traditional game) such as 윷놀이 (yut-no-ree: a game of yut), 제기차기 (jea-gi-cha-gi: kicking jea-gi), 그네타기 (gue-neh-tah-gi: swing).

I remember I was helping my mother and aunts because I always felt bad for their hard-laboring to make a lot of food for the whole family. This tradition still exists, and a lot of people get 명절 스트레스 (myung-jeol-stress: stress from holidays). 명절 증후근 (myung-jeol-syndrome) is a legitimate phenomenon in South Korea. As more families in South Korea are getting smaller, you’ll see them break from tradition in order to minimize 명절 스트레스. They either go out for a dinner or order 추석 food from catering services.  

Image by Pixabay


On the other hand, 추석 sounds like a much simpler holiday in North Korea. It is a one-day holiday. 추석 is an official holiday, but it is considered more suitable to give a day of rest to provide better service for the nation rather than a family holiday. Although North Koreans will still go visit their ancestor’s graves and share 차례음식 as well.


I heard that this year 추석 might be simpler because of the pandemic, but I cherish the holiday spirit which brings the love and peace. 

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About the Author: Flying Oyster

Hi, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. H.J.