Chuseok, celebrated on the fifteenth of the eighth month according to the lunar calendar, is a three-week holiday for Koreans to be thankful for and celebrate the year's good harvest. This year, Chuseok day falls on Oct. 4, making Oct. 3-5 the holiday period. The Korean government declared Oct. 2 an ad hoc holiday, Oct 6 is a "sandwich" day given to Koreans as a day off to enjoy the weekend. In addition, Oct. 9 is Hangul Proclamation Day, which is also a national holiday. As a result, this Chuseok holiday will translate into 10 consecutive non-working days, an opportunity known as "Hwangeum Yeonhyu," or directly translated "Golden Holiday."
Chuseok is best understood as Korea's Thanksgiving Day. During this holiday, families gather from across the country and feast on a traditional spread of food that also appears in Korean ancestral rite ceremonies called "charye." The ritual takes place first thing in the morning of Chuseok day. Charye is Koreans' way of thanking their ancestors for a bountiful harvest and praying for future success. Some believe the spirits of ancestors serve to protect future generations, and charye ensures proper respect is paid in the form of the ceremony and special food prepared in their honor.
The very essence of this holiday is in enjoying Korean traditional food. One of the major foods is "songpyeon," which is a Korean traditional rice cake filled with sesame seeds, black beans and honey. The ingredients do not vary much compared to other rice cakes. However, it is the unique way of steaming songpyeon that makes it special. Before songpyeon is ready to be steamed, pine needles are placed around the steamer. This contributes greatly to the aromatic fragrance, beauty, and taste of songpyoen. "Hangwa," a Korean traditional cookie, is another popular food enjoyed during Chuseok. Hangwa is made of rice flour, honey, fruit and other special roots. Their specialty lies in their artistic appearance as they are decorated with various natural ingredients to express various colors and tastes.
Koreans believe happy, positive energy will lead to a steady and bountiful harvest for the family. As Chuseok is a harvest festival, Koreans usually give gifts to their peers and families. The gifts are typically simple, mostly food-related products to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Giving gifts during this holiday is a great opportunity to express gratitude or contriteness for being distant. It is a great way to take care of personal connections.
In addition, numerous traditional folk games that can be easily enjoyed by men and women of all ages during Chuseok are played. In the past, these folk games were the main source of entertainment for Koreans to spend their time during the holidays. "SSireum" is the most popular Korean sport played during Chuseok, and competitions are held during this holiday. The sport is similar to wrestling except the players can only put their hands on the opponent's "satba," which is tied around the player's wrist and thigh. When a player's upper body touches the ground, the player loses. "Ganggangsullae" dance is also a famous folk game played during Chuseok. Women wear "hanbok," or traditional Korean dresses, and they go around a circle, holding hands with one another and singing Korean folk songs.
Every year, the Korean peninsula witnesses large crowds of people heading to their hometown to spend Chuseok with their families. During this time, the public must be aware of traffic conditions and avoid becoming mired in severe congestion on major arteries leading into and out of cities and burial sites. Accidents are common, and public transportation is highly recommended. Bus lanes allow large-capacity vehicles unfettered access on major highways. Strict enforcement of these lanes by helicopters and drones result in heavy fines for passenger cars and other unauthorized users of the bus lanes.