WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE TRAVEL DURING CHUSEOK?
The holiday Chuseok 추석, literally meaning “Autumn Eve,” and Hangawi 한가위, a native archaic Korean word meaning “the great middle (of Autumn),” falls on August 15th of the Lunar calendar, and is one of the biggest holidays in South Korea, along with Seollal. Originally, the purpose of Chuseok was to harvest some grain in advance after passing the crucial moments of farming to perform ancestral rites to pray for a good harvest. As the summer farming works were already over, and the weather was pleasant ahead of the big harvest in the fall, it was an ideal time for people to visit the ancestors’ graves and enjoy the free time. Therefore, Chuseok is different from Thanksgiving Day, which is a ceremony of appreciation after finishing the harvest. With one or two days left before Chuseok, a huge number of Koreans return to their hometowns, leading to a huge traffic jam. It will be a time when downtown Seoul is empty due to the great migration.
Finding a train ticket is extremely difficult, and if you choose to drive, it usually takes three to four times more than it usually does. But people endure the pain to be together with their family. After they barely arrive late at night, they stay up late talking to each other, and women are exhausted from the extra hour cooking and dish washing. On the morning of Chuseok, people get up early, prepare breakfast with the year’s harvest, and hold the ancestral rite, charye.
After breakfast, they visit and pay their respects at the ancestors’ graves, which they had to visit and cut down the weeds beforehand. At night, they make a wish to the bright full moon (and make songpyeon together). Just a decade ago, the story above was a common sight in Korea. However, as times have changed, so has the way people spend Chuseok. Instead of heading home to visit their parents and relatives, many go on an overseas trip or rest at home alone.
WHY DO KOREAN PEOPLE BELIEVE THERE IS A RABBIT LIVING ON THE MOON?
People made a wish on the bright full moon on Chuseok, but until Apollo 11 landed on the moon, what (or who?) did Korean people in the old days think was living on the moon? Most Koreans imagined a rabbit was living on the moon, pounding something with a pestle in a mortar because the dark spots of the moon look just like that. The story, which originated from Chinese folk tales and spread to East Asia, has different things in the mortar. In Korea and Japan, the rabbit is believed to be making tteok and mochi (rice cake), and in China, it’s making the elixir of life.