Although Americans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving until November, growing up as a Korean-American meant that I was actually able to partake in a round of feasting and fall festivities a month or two in advance! Instead of Thanksgiving, I celebrated Chuseok (almost like a Korean version of Thanksgiving!), which falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, and this year, it occurred just over a week ago on October 4th. This was my first year not being able to celebrate with my family and although it was a little sad, it did allow me to reflect a bit on all the years of festivities I was able to experience in the past!
Through all my years of elementary school, I was more-or-less forced to attend Korean school on Saturdays to, of course, learn Korean, but also to learn about my home country’s history and culture. While I dreaded waking up on Saturday mornings to go over grammar and mindlessly take spelling quizzes, I always looked forward to the huge carnival the school hosted every Chuseok. From sampling bite-sized cuts of traditional autumn fruits, like apples, Korean pears, and persimmons to chowing down on paper plates filled with fish and meat pancakes, the Chuseok carnival was filled with endless good eats that simultaneously satisfied my taste buds and taught me a thing or two about my culture. Aside from food, my friends and I used to entertain ourselves by checking out the booths; each one had old-school Korean games that according to my mom, were reminiscent of her childhood days spent on her schoolyard. Our go-to game was jaegichagi (aka Korean hackey-sack), and it never failed to spur fierce competition amongst our friend group. Overall, Chuseok during my childhood centered around days filled with food and friendly competition, but the holiday itself has come to mean much more than that.
Although my Chuseok festivities in the United States usually only involved a large meal with my immediate family and other family friends, I know from phone calls with my extended family that the holidays bring so much more— from elaborate memorial services to passed loved ones in the morning to extremely elaborate family feasts, Chuseok is, to put it simply, a big deal. Paying respects to ancestors is taken anything but lightly; my aunts and uncles tell me about family trips to clean family tombs and offer food and drink to immediate ancestors. While I’ve never had the chance to partake in these traditions in person nor knew about the weight of their importance as a child, I now recognize the immense value in these activities as well as our smaller-scale celebrations back here in America. Even though the festivities vary by family and location, Chuseok always seems to center around the togetherness that the fall harvest brings— it’s a holiday that unites tradition, family and fun.