Chusok, "autumn evening", is a Korean harvest festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. In Korea this year, the Chusok holidays extended over three days, Saturday 17th to Monday 19th September.
Chusok is believed to have originated during the ancient Shilla Kingdom, when a month-long weaving festival was held. For the contest, the king divided the city into teams and appointed princesses to lead them. The king announced the winner on the day of the eighth full moon and the losing team had to provide food, drink, and entertainment.
Early on the Chusok morning, Koreans traditionally offer the first fruits of the harvest to their ancestors as a thanksgiving for good fortune. Some Christians are uncomfortable with ‘worshiping’ ancestors and prefer to honour them with prayers and hymns rather than bowing or offering them foods. Chusok is a harvest moon festival, but it’s also a thanksgiving day and one of the most important Korean festivals, celebrated by farmers and city dwellers alike, with much fun, feasting and drinking.
Songp’yon, a crescent-shaped rice cake, is a traditional food for Chusok. Traditional gender roles persist. Women spend days cooking and preparing for the Chusok ceremony and family gathering, while men relax and enjoy the festivities.
Chusok celebrates ancient traditions but is also being changed by modern life, especially as massive transport congestion makes it hard for people in the large cities to return home for a family gathering – millions of people travel to visit families and ancestral graves during the three-day holiday and most people honour and enjoy the time of thanksgiving in some way.
Chusok, a time of family gathering, reminds us of the sad the division of families between North and South ever since the Korean War. It has been over fifty years since many people have had any contact with their loved ones. Some South Koreans may be thankful that North Korea has said it will abandon its nuclear ambitions. But most will rightly be sceptical.
Here, in far-off Australia, and I give thanks for our families, our peaceful home, and the abundance of good things we enjoy.