Saturday, September 19, 2009

Every year on the fifth day of the eighth lunar month, the Harvest Full Moon Festival is held, which is known as Chuseok.

It's a three day holiday which lasts from the 17th to the 19th of September this year. One of the most important Korean holidays, it allows people to leave the cities and visit their home towns, to spend time with their families.

During the holiday, family members pay respect to their living relatives and visit the graves of their ancestors, to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

As a result of South Korea's rapid urbanisation over recent decades, many people no longer live in the place of their families and ancestors. This results in mass exodus from the cities every year, which causes chaos on the roads and people even book train tickets months in advance.

The radio has constant traffic updates. Traffic jams everywhere. Trips by road that normally do not take more than a few hours, have more than doubled. I feel glad that I've managed to avoid the pandemonium and remained in Seoul.

As a result Seoul currently feels like a ghost town. Shops and restaurants are closed. The streets are near empty. It's even possible to get a seat on the subway. In fact every day so far of the holiday has felt like a Sunday.

It is believed that Chuseok dates back to Korea's three Kingdom's Period(57-668). During the reign of King Yuri, two teams of women took part in a month long weaving competition that was held in the capital, Gyeongu. The winner was announced on the fifth day of the eighth lunar month and the losing team had to provide food and entertainment for the winning team.

On the morning of Chuseok, an ancestral memorial service, known as Charye, is performed at home. On an altar, food and drink including songpyeon, household rice wine and newly harvested rice are placed.

Songpyeon are crescent shaped rice cakes and are probably the most important and loved of the foods offered at Chuseok. Filled with sesame seeds, beans, nuts or dates, they are steamed on pine tree needles and coated with sesame oil.

Afterwards the family has breakfast, enjoying the same food used in the rites and later they then visit the ancestral graves.

Here beolcho and seongmyo are performed. Beolcho involves trimming the grass and pulling out the weeds that have grown around the graves. In the past this was usually done in the days leading up to Chuseok, but nowadays it is generally done on the day of the ritual.

The final ceremony that is performed is known as seongmyo, where a formal bow of gratitude is made. After this families then return home, where they play games and sing songs.