Hey everyone! It hasn't been too long since my last journal post but today, this weekend in general, was awesome enough that I figured I'd share a bit with you!
This weekend is one of two very big Korean holidays; it's their version of Thanksgiving and it's called Chuseok. Different families celebrate in different ways of course, but in my area it seems it's mostly a very traditional holiday. My host sister tells me it's usually a three day process:
The first day is usually preparation; families getting all the food ready and everything... But on prep day I actually did something a little different. My friend and her family invited me to go with them and the exchange student they're hosting to another city where we went to a place called Hanok Maeul. It was very fun because we wore traditional Korean clothing and walked around what was something of a small town comprised of traditional Korean houses turned shops/restaurants.
The food was SO delicious; my favorite was the octopus! Never thought I would say that. But the octopus on a stick was the bomb. I always have fun whenever I'm with my friend and her family so I'm so happy to be invited places with them! The German girl they are hosting is like my best exchange student friend over here, we got really close really fast. My friend and her brother and her mom are all ALWAYS so kind and funny. Also, they brought another friend along who comes with us to church on Sundays as well! Whenever we're all together it always makes for fun times. When I got home that night I spent the rest of prep day watching tv with my host family.
Today was the actual day of Chuseok and the experience was somewhat beyond words. This morning we all slept in quite a bit and when we all woke up it was so fun getting ready together. My host mom, my host sisters, and I were all running around the house laughing together as we put on our hanboks, the traditional Korean clothes. I did my host sister's hair and we all took turns putting on the makeup...it felt like playing dress up somehow haha.
Then, on Chuseok, it's traditional to go visit your grandparents on your father's side of the family. It's usually so personal that I've heard of some instances where the exchange students are asked to stay home. I didn't really understand this until I saw it in person. In my host family's situation, my host father's parents have long since passed on so we went to their resting place. The journey was so beautiful as we traveled roads that climbed through the mountains. The colors of fall are starting to decorate the trees here and it was breathtaking.
Then when we got there and the actual experience started I was left without words. I was formally presented to the deceased grandparents to whom I respectfully bowed and introduced myself. Then, tables with burning incense were scattered throughout the place for people to set up memorials for their deceased loved ones.
The set up goes a little something like this: there's a mat on the floor in front of the table where you are not allowed to wear shoes. The incense burns just in front of the mat. Then, on the table usually a picture goes on a little stand, this is in the center, but my host family just put up a piece of paper with writing in Hanja (Chinese based characters). Then around the picture are candles and fruits and the favorite foods of those particular people. Then, after you set up the picture and food, you step onto the mat and pour alcohol into a cup, swirl it before the incense, and place it next to the picture. After this, you must do two deep bows all the way to the floor in greeting. It almost looks like an altar but having experienced this in person I can confidently say it's not really like that.
The Korean Thanksgiving is exceptionally different from the American Thanksgiving. Granted, on this day there is still much good food involved. But the food is not generally the focus of the day. The purpose of Chuseok is to honor and give thanks to those who came before you. While this is similar to our American holiday, we mostly focus on what we are thankful for in the present on our Thanksgiving even though it was a tradition started because of the past. On Chuseok, the place that resembles an altar is more like a re-creation of favorite memories, and the two deep bows are the signs of deepest respect and thanks for making the current life possible.
Also, on Chuseok it appears to be tradition to greet the husband of the house with a deep bow as well and as an acknowledgment of your greeting, your are presented with money. Another tradition is for you to make sweet rice cakes with your family; it's a bit tiring but very fun! Like we eat turkey as a special food every Thanksgiving, we eat rice cakes in Korea.
The last day of Chuseok, tomorrow, is a day of rest. Sit with your family and watch tv....I look forward to doing so. The day was fun but a little tiring! Nonetheless, I was so honored to be able to experience this very cultural and traditional holiday!
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