Memories of Chusuk in Korea

Senior Jenny Lee shares memories of her family's celebration of Chusuk in Korea. Peddie students celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival on campus in a variety of ways. 

It was two years ago that I last celebrated Korean-version of Mid-Autumn Festival. August 15 in lunar calendar, the same day that Chinese appreciate full moon and wish for an abundant, flourishing year, we Koreans gather with distant relatives for a similar purpose. This is called “Chusuk.”

Chusuk is one of the biggest holidays in Korea where we get several days off school or work, and visit our grandparents. It is also one of the busiest days for women since they have to cook so much food.  For some reason, what I remember of Chusuk is mostly from my childhood, when I was a bystander, observing the ceremonial preparations for this holiday. I neglected the fact that I was a girl and did not even enter the busy kitchen to help out, while all the females were there, working. Sadly, even now, as a high school senior, I was not much of help; they already finished their preparation a couple of days ago. 
I remember that the day before Chusuk,  I played 윷놀이, a Korean traditional board game, with my cousins. We also had some TV breaks where we watched celebrities dressed in Korean traditional clothes, Hanbok, play traditional games such as tug-of-war, wrestling, archery, and so on. All my cousins were boys so we rarely entered the kitchen to cook or clean up, but I have to admit, we did sneak “out” with some food. Our favorite was 송편, sweet, round rice cake with ground sesame seed inside.
The next day, we wake up around 7AM, and I remember, it was a pain for me as a little girl. We dress nice, remembering to wear socks to cover bare toes for politeness. My mom, grandmother, and aunts, who woke up even earlier, already prepared a table full of food, and my dad carefully writes on a piece of paper which he would paste on a folding screen to invite our ancestors to the feast. He opens the front door of the house and leaves it open.
My grandmother, uncle, and dad turn a cup filled with Korean wine in a circle three times, place it on the front table, and we all bow toward the folding screen with our foreheads on the floor in a crouched position. It is always somewhat awkward for me to stay in this position and keep quiet without making any sound. I can hear people breathing, my cousin’s playful giggle which breaks the silence, and my heart beating faster, anticipating a swish of wind that could be my grandfather, who passed away. At the last minute, I whisper, “Ancestors, please keep all of our family safe and healthy.” After what feels like half an hour instead of three minutes of silence, we eat with our ancestors, and we eat a lot.
Then we head to our ancestors’ tombs, which hide deep in the mountains. I get really excited around this time because I get to catch grasshoppers and crickets and play with them. As a little girl, this feels like a picnic, since my mom would bring mats and food, except that it is much more serious and solemn. My dad neatly trims the grass on the tomb and I nervously hope that he won’t get stung by bees. Just like what we did in the morning, we bow toward the tomb and eat on our mats.
Maybe it is due to fast-pace of modern society that we seldom stop and appreciate what we already have. We only march forward and think about ways to speed up. However, holidays like Chusuk provide us an opportunity to be thankful, of ancestors, family members, and of nature. Today, why don’t you think about the things you can appreciate to celebrate Chusuk?