Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Adventures: Chuseok 추석

Google's Chuseok Tribute

Chuseok (추석)is a Korean holiday which is very similar to what most of us in the West know as Thanksgiving, but Chuseok is Thanksgiving with an ancestral rite component.

On Chuseok, Korean families visit all of their immediate and extended family, and it can be a very extensive and exhaustive Holiday when traveling time is factored in. For many Koreans, returning to their hometowns is a must and the roads out of the major cities are havoc. Chuseok is a little like musical chairs, but with meals, and each Aunt, Mother, and Grandmother's home can be like a revolving door for family members.

Families reunite and visit the graves of their ancestors to offer up food, and drink, and to clean away any overgrown plants and trash around the graves. Usually there is a lot of eating and fellowship, games, and general merriment over the holiday and the time spent with family. I asked several Koreans I know what meant the most to them about Chuseok, and they each said the same: spending time with family which they don't normally get to see because of location.

There are foods such as Hangwha (Korean version of rice crispies, which is made with puffed rice and honey) and Songpyeon (a rice cake that can have a variety of fillings, I had the good fortune to enjoy sesame filled cakes) which are very specific to the holiday and are really only consumed in force during Chuseok. Think fruit cake and Christmas.

I was graciously invited by Heo (my Taekwondo master) to attend his family's Chuseok celebration and it was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. I was a bit nervous about the state of the roads for Chuseok, but all was well since we were only taking a short bus trip out of the city to Yong-in. We blended in quite easily with the groups of tourists heading to Everland for the day, and even caused a bit of confusion when we hopped out of the bus a stop before Everland to meet my master's brother. We had a pack of foreigners chasing us down thinking we were leading the way to Everland only to realize that we were getting into a waiting car....I won't lie it was pretty funny seeing about 10 waygooks standing there in the middle of an empty parking lot staring after us. I did feel bad for them....after I giggled. >.>

On the way to Yongin and the temple
When we arrived in Yongin, Heo took us to Beomnyunsa Temple a very famous Buddhist temple and according to Heo it was the only thing in Yongin worth seeing besides Everland.  The temple was absolutely beautiful and it was a picture perfect event at the temple in the foothills of Mt. Munsusan. Here is an assortment of photos from our beautiful foray into the temple and the surrounding grottos and gardens.

The natural and delicious spring water at the temple that Sung-wen and I were crazy for.

We were all unsure of what to expect because Heo's family speaks very little English and his parents knew basically no English whatsoever. We did bring some insurance in the form of my Kyopo (Korean born abroad) friend, Sung-wen. Sung-wen served as an excellent go-between for us and Heo's family, especially since my Hangul skills are still in their toddler stages and I was only able to communicate on a very basic level with Heo's family.

The ice between myself, my husband Rich, Sung-wen, and my friend Kat, was broken very quickly when Heo left to get his brother and we were left to our own devices with Heo's family. His mother and father were so warm and kind and insisted that we refer to them as Oh-ma(엄마) and Ah-pa (아빠). By the time that Heo returned we were laughing and making what conversation we could while Ah-pa manned the grill. It was cute to watch Heo's parents together as they tutted about how big the pieces of meat were and if the vegetables had been cut to specification. 엄마 was lovely and she refused to sit until everyone else was stuffed and even then she kept offering us drinks and sweets to eat. She reminded me very much of my own mother and grandmother at holiday meals, and I was homesick for my own bustling Mexican family. My camera and phone magically died at the exact same moment and so I am left without any photos of the magnificent Chuseok dinner or all of the fun that passed afterwards. I will say that my first Chuseok was amazing, it will definitely be a story that I will share with my family, and one I will remember for years to come.


 I cannot wait until next year's Chuseok when I might actually get to help make Songpyeon or participate in Bulcho (helping clear out the debris and weeds from the graves).


  1. Lovely post about a wondeful trip! Thank you. I find this time of year always inspires me to cook for family.

  2. Thank you! I am so glad that you liked the post and yes, there really is something about this time of year that makes the kitchen inviting. :)