Many cultures have holidays centered around gratitude. In the U.S., you might think of Thanksgiving as the holiday where we give thanks. For Korean families, Chuseok is a similar holiday. We've got all the information for you on the Chuseok meaning, traditions, history, and more.
"Chuseok is the Korean Thanksgiving Day," explains Annie Chun, co-founder of Gimme Seaweed, who was born and raised in central Seoul near the west coast of Korea. "It is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea."
She notes that Chuseok is also known as Hangawi, which means the 15th day of August, according to the lunar calendar. "On this day, a full harvest moon appeared in the sky and families gathered to enjoy time together and give thanks to their ancestors for the plentiful harvest. The women of the family also prepared an ancestral memorial ceremony called charye by filling a table with food including newly harvested rice and fruit," she explains.
The meaningful holiday is rich with tradition. Keep scrolling for answers to all of your questions about Chuseok, including when it takes place in 2023 and the best Chuseok gifts for friends and family celebrating Korean Thanksgiving this year.
What is Chuseok?
"Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving, is a major harvest festival and one of the most important traditional holidays in South Korea," explains Dr. Jenelle Kim, author of Myung Sung: The Korean Art of Living Meditation. It is a time when families gather together to pay respects to their ancestors, express gratitude for the year's bountiful harvest, and enjoy each other's company."
When is Chuseok?
The Chuseok dates follow the lunar calendar. Chun says, "Although the exact day changes every year, Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month on the full moon." This year, Chuseok will take place from Thursday, September 28, to Saturday, September 30, 2023.
How to say “Happy Chuseok” in Korean
There are a few different ways to wish someone a happy Chuseok. Chun shares that you can say "추석 잘 보내세요 (chuseok jal bonaeseyo)" which means, "Have a good Chuseok." Another option is "즐거운 한가위 되세요 (jeulgeoun hangawi doeseyo)" which means, "Have a happy Hangawi."
What is the history of Chuseok?
"According to legend, an ancient king of the kingdom Silla, started a month-long weaving contest between two teams. The team who had woven the most cloth won and were treated with food, drinks, and other gifts by the losing team — thus starting the tradition of Thanksgiving almost 2000 years ago," explained Chun.
Kim also noted that the history of the holiday can be traced back to ancient times when Koreans relied heavily on agriculture. She says that it was a time when people would give thanks to their ancestors and pray for a good harvest in the upcoming year. "Chuseok also has ties to the worship of the moon, symbolizing the importance of the lunar calendar in Korean culture," she adds.
What are some Chuseok traditions?
One Chuseok tradition involves families gathering on the morning of Chuseok to honor their ancestors. Kim says that people visit ancestral gravesites to perform rituals, clean the area, and offer food and drinks as a sign of respect.
Other traditions include games and entertainment. Chun shared that these might include samulnori (traditional percussion quartet), talchum (mask dance), ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance), and ssireum (traditional Korean wrestling).
Ganggangsullae is a dance performed on Chuseok and one other Korean holiday. Women dress in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), join hands in a circle, and sing together. "One of the most well-known stories says that the dance dates back to the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) when the Korean army used to dress the young women of the village in military uniforms and had them circle the mountains to give off the appearance that the Korean military was greater in number than it actually was from the enemy side. The Korean army enjoyed many victories thanks to this scare tactic," says Chun.
What dishes are served for Chuseok?
"Korean Thanksgiving food, also known as Charyeotguk or Songpyeon, plays
a significant role during the festival," says Kim. "Songpyeon is a type of rice cake
stuffed with various fillings like sesame seeds, red bean paste, or
Chun adds that everything is made with new harvest food. "My favorite Chuseok dish is Asian Autumn Pears," she says. Other dishes you might see are pajeon (scallion pancakes), japchae (beef & vegetables with sesame glass noodles), galbi jjim (Korean Braised Short Ribs), and bibimbap with fresh harvest rice.
What gifts are given on Chuseok?
Since Chuseok is a Thanksgiving celebration, things like fruit or other agricultural products are common gifts, according to Chun. You can also send gifts of ginseng rice wine, cuts of meat, snacks, or dried persimmons. Kim adds that health-related items like ginseng and traditional teas are popular options.
Jamie Ballard (she/her) is a freelance writer and editor who covers news, lifestyle, and entertainment topics, including sex and relationships, TV, movies, books, health, pets, food and drinks, pop culture, shopping, and personal finance. She regularly contributes to Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and YouGov, among other publications. When she’s not working, you can find her running, traveling, or scrolling TikTok. Follow her on Twitter.