This weekend has been Chuseok, the traditional Korean harvest festival, also sometimes known as Korean Thanksgiving (although I suspect the last one is more an attempt at explaining the cultural significance of the holiday to Americans, rather than any relationship with the US Thanksgiving). Anyway, it’s a 3-day holiday, which in Korea where holidays are typically scarce, is a big thing. This year there is a bonus, since Chuseok ends on October 1st and October 3rd is also a national holiday, so many companies give the intervening Tuesday off, or people just take their holidays to make a longer break. Me? The intervening Tuesday is my birthday, so I don’t need any further excuses to take a longer break. 🙂
Where was I? Right, Chuseok, which technically is only one day, this year that day having been Sunday September 30, i.e., yesterday. Traditionally, this day entails paying respects to ones ancestors in their old home towns, if at all possible. This also means that roads, planes, and trains are packed over the weekend. My Better Half’s family celebrates Chuseok (and New Year, the other big holiday in Korea) at the home of the eldest brother of the currently surviving generation, which is in Bundang, about 20 minutes south of Seoul. The family originates from well further south, but the gathering of the family happens in Bundang, i.e., Seoul for all practical purposes.
The strong Confucian traditions about male lineage are very clear during these big festivals, and only the male branch of the family is present (with their wives and children of course). We are sort of an exception, since if I were Korean, we would celebrate Chuseok with my relatives, but since my uncle is Finnish, we don’t celebrate Chuseok. So, every time we happen to be here during the right time of the year, we’re invited. So far that’s been Chuseok twice and New Year’s once or twice, I can’t remember exactly.
I consider it a big honor to be invited and I even get to participate in the rituals the same way as all the other male family members. Yes, only guys take part in the ceremony which involves offering food and rice wine and bowing to the ancestors. Women are outside preparing food and the first time I was participating, I asked my Better Half about what I’m supposed to do there. She answered: “How should I know, I’ve never seen it happen.” Anyway, my relatives are very helpful and in the end, it’s only a matter of kneeling and bowing and the latter I learned at my wedding which took place here in Korea, so it’s actually pretty simple in that sense. I really appreciate being able to participate in the ceremony.
The ceremony is followed by food and these feasts are the only times when I can eat kimchi before noon. See, traditionally the ceremony was supposed to be held before sunrise, but these days my relatives hold it at a much more civilized time of around 8 in the morning, which means we get to the table around 9. Anyone who’s been to Korea can think for themselves whether they would be able to eat kimchi for breakfast (I wouldn’t, my stomach is conditioned to the western-style breakfast :)) And of course a little bit of rice wine. The ancestors were nice enough not to drink all of it. 🙂
After the ceremony, we went sightseeing in downtown Seoul. There was supposed to be a concert of traditional Korean music near Cheonggyecheon river in downtown Seoul. See the Wikipedia entry about what’s special about Cheonggyecheon; it’s a very nice place.
Turns out the concert wouldn’t start until the evening, but there were some other traditional Korean things there and kids could participate in making rice cakes, candy, or cookies. My Daughter went to make cookies and there was a Korean TV crew filming that, so now she’s been on Korean TV. 🙂
This is the stage where the music was supposed to be.
The eagle-eyed of you may have noticed that there is a music video playing. Yes, there was and it repeated itself every 15-20 minutes or so, and unsurprisingly, the video was this:
Sorry about that, but given all the hype around Gangnam Style, you couldn’t expect me to blog for 5 months about things in Korea and not mention Gangnam Style. 🙂
After that, we did a short tour of the Gyeongbokgung palace, which had free entrance on that day. We weren’t the only ones there. (In case you want to see more photos from the palace, see my photos on Flickr.)
Today, the last day of the official Chuseok holiday we went to the Seoul Zoo, which is a little bit south from where we live. I’ve been to the zoo several years ago, but that was in February. October is a much nicer season to visit. The Kids were pretty excited to see all kinds of animals you can’t see in Helsinki zoo.
At some point, the Little One took a fixation on seeing the lions and he kept repeating that. Yes, we saw them and he was happy. (I don’t have a photo of them since I was holding him so that he could see over the fence better.) A very nice day as well.