For the second time in less than a week, Korea is observing a holiday.
October 3 marks National Foundation Day (Gaecheonjeol in Korean), an observance that commemorates the founding of Korea in 2333 B.C. For many families, the three-day Chuseok (Thanksgiving) holiday extended to five days. Our university was closed on Monday, open on Tuesday, and closed again on Wednesday.
Traffic was crazy during the holiday weekend. Highways became parking lots as more than 29 million of the nation’s 50 million people traveled home for family reunions and to pay tribute to ancestors. Trains, buses, and planes were also packed. My husband and I traveled by train on Sunday. It seemed that nearly everyone was carrying holiday gifts.
Typically, Chuseok and National Foundation Day are separated by several days. However, Chuseok is a floating holiday, based on a lunar calendar. This year National Foundation Day took a back seat to the Korean Thanksgiving.
Soon after arriving in Korea last year, I learned that Chuseok is one of the country’s most important and beloved holidays. It is often described as Korea’s Thanksgiving. For the most part, the country’s holidays follow the Gregorian calendar, but this isn’t true with Chuseok.
The date for this observance floats each year because it’s based on the lunar calendar. This year the holiday is being observed September 29 – October 1. Chuseok is a celebration of the harvest. It’s also a time when Koreans all over the country travel to their ancestral homes. Ancestral worship begins early in the morning and is followed by a visit to the tombs of immediate family members. So it’s no surprise that the campus is almost deserted.
For my students, the holiday weekend presents an opportunity to eat their favorite foods. Fruit and grain are in abundance, along with beverages. According to my students, many homes also serve an assortment of meat dishes. One favorite traditional dish is songpyeong, a crescent-shaped rice cake that is steamed on pine needles.
On Sunday, my husband and I plan to attend a big Chuseok celebration at a large church in Seoul. Before my husband preaches at the afternoon service, we’ll eat a special lunch at the church, followed by another special event . It should be a great day.