Some coin Chuseok, "Korean Thanksgiving," though I don't understand why. Though the holiday is encapsulated by concepts of love, family, and food, its roots are different than those of the overly-commercialized American holiday. Chuseok spans three days, beginning on August 15th of the lunar calendar, when the Full Moon Harvest takes place. Chuseok's orgin dates back about two thousand years to the time of the Silla King Euri, who ruled during the Three Kingdoms period. At the time, he desired to expand the weaving industry and organized a nation-wide weaving contest, in which the losers were to prepare certain foods for the winners. It soon developed to be a time to honor ancestors with newly harvested grains and fruits.
Even today, there is no corny holiday decor plastered on department store windows. There are no sales pitches or discounts on commercialized memorabilia. In fact, I highly doubt there's even a greeting card designated for this day. What one does find is generosity. I decided to do some grocery shopping at Lotte department store a few days before the holiday weekend and was taken back by the crowds taking over the produce section and lined up at the check-out counters. I soon realized that these people were racking up on items to give to their families and loved ones to celebrate Chuseok. Of these items, gift sets seem to be the most popular picks.
Let me just say... there's a gift set for everyone. A gift set of flawless fruit could run you about 200,000 won ($150USD) and a lobster box set (literally a box with a pair of lobster) could cost you even more. SPAM gift sets were plentiful, as SPAM is often seen as a hot commodity here; it is seemingly more expensive in Korea. From my observations, Koreans place functionality and practicality as priorities when giving a gift and who can blame them? I hate giving (or receiving) a gift that I know will never be used. Therefore, I could only be grateful for the set my school gave me as a Chuseok gift: a set of eight tubes of Korean toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and bar soap.
Gifts aside, Koreans spend the holiday with a focus primarily on family. Families travel to their hometowns to spend time with grandparents and family members. Anytime Koreans gather in groups, hearty eating is involved; the females of the family often make a traditional meal. This meal usually consists of japchae, bulgogi, and various fruits. Just like our Thanksgiving would be incomplete without the turkey, Chuseok would not be right without songpyeon, full moon rice cakes stuffed with sesame, beans, chestnuts, rice flour and newly harvested grains. And might I add that they are delicious! Families then visit the graves of their deceased ancestors to remember and honor their past family.