Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Chuseok Time!

 The kids at school in traditional Korean clothing, called the Hanbok, and making rice cakes
Chuseok or 추석 is the biggest and most important holiday in Korea. It celebrates the year's harvest and it's a time for Korean families to come together, be thankful and recognize the contributions of their ancestors.

It's a family holiday known for its food and gift giving. They come together and eat traditional food, and its staple is called Songpyeon (송편), which is a type of rice cake that is rolled into a ball and contains a sweet filling. There's also quite a bit of gift giving, where practical presents are given to friends and neighbors. Ideally, Korean families will visit the hometowns of their ancestors to pay respects to their spirits. It's technically one day, but it's celebrated as a three day holiday.

This year's gift box!
There are some similarities to Thanksgiving, so Chuseok is often described to foreign people as "the Korean Thanksgiving." 

You can read more about the Chuseok holiday here and here.

Since I'm not Korean, I don't have family that's from here, leaving me with little to celebrate. While I've heard of it happening before, it's not really common for the locals to invite foreigners to celebrate with them. It's strictly a family thing, so we are normally outside of the bubble of celebration.

However, there are still some things I witness as an English teacher. First, we usually receive gifts at work from our bosses. Again, these gifts are usually practical things, the sort of stuff that they anticipate that we will need. My first year here, I received two big packages of Spam, tuna and cooking oil. My second year, I received a large package of beauty products such as lotions, soaps, body wash, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. I was given a similar package this year by my current school.

At the One-Day Café!
My first year here, I worked at a small kindergarten. One day, the kids came to school wearing Hanboks, and they were all so adorable! We had a couple of special events for school that day, and we all made songpyeon together. The funny thing was, I and the other foreign teachers were not told ahead of time, so it was a bit of a surprise for us. Many photos were also taken that day, so it was almost like having picture day without being told about it beforehand!

There are also activities to participate in during the holidays. The weekend before the holiday this year, I attended a one-day event held by a local church for foreigners to celebrate Chuseok. It was called a One Day Café held at a place called Home Sweet Home in Sinsa-dong in Seoul.

With the group of Romanian students
I went alone, and they separated us into groups of people. I arrived with a group of Romanian exchange students and we went around to the different stations together. It was fun. The difficult part was that the girls spoke Korean much better than I did, but I'm glad I had the chance to practice. The staff just had to be more patient with me! They had some food, such as jeon (Korean-style pancakes), japchae (clear noodles), kimbap (the Korean version of sushi) and a banana yogurt dessert. They served juice and soda as drinks. After eating, there were some activities.

First, we went downstairs to make a Korean name. Volunteers talked to us about the meaning of our given name, then found a name with a similar meaning in Korean. Since I thought my name had to do with a tree or flower, they gave me the name 핀아 (Peen-Ah). They told me it has to do with my parents believing I would grow up well. Next, there was calligraphy. They told us a little about about it, and made signs for us with our new name. After that we took some pictures, then went outside to get painted. There were other activities, such as Korean plays and traditional games, but at that point it became crowded.  It was an enjoyable event though.

My gifts from the café!

I thought the name 핀아 was strange, so I talked to a couple of Korean guy friends about it. They confirmed that it was unusual, but that it was cute. I guess I'll keep it then. I now have a Korean name!

Happy Chuseok Everyone!

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