HomeKorean AmericanKorean Chuseok: another holiday America can enjoy

Korean Chuseok: another holiday America can enjoy

The fifth annual Bay Area Chuseok Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 30  at the Main Parade Lawn at the Presidio National Park in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area of San Francisco. 

The family-friendly day of performances, food, art, and fun hosted by the Korean Center, Inc. (KCI) has become Northern California’s largest public event reveling in Korean culture.

The event, sponsored by the Presidio Trust, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in San Francisco, plus many other community organizations, donors, and vendors, is free to all. Advanced registration will be appreciated by the coordinators.

To Koreans and their diasporas all around the world, today is the mid-autumn harvest celebration known as Chuseok.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken tastefully released a statement about it on Sept. 27, when it was already the three-day holiday’s kickoff date of Sept. 28 in Korea. He bid “all Koreans” a happy Chuseok as well as joy, harmony, and prosperity. 

This is the third consecutive year that the governmental official has acknowledged Chuseok in an affirmation of America’s longstanding relationship with Korea. In 2020, President Joe Biden made a more informal Tweet that concluded with well wishes in hangul, Korean script. 

Chuseok, alternatively called Hangawi, is already known to some Americans as “Korean Thanksgiving” as an easier way of referencing the ancient holiday occurring on the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. 

Members of the Seoul-based Art Taekwondo martial arts dance education, performance, and content creation group, promoting their upcoming Bay Area Chuseok Festival appearance on network television at KTVU FOX2 San Francisco. Photo Credit: Art Taekwondo
Members of the Seoul-based Art Taekwondo martial arts dance education, performance, and content creation group, promoting their upcoming Bay Area Chuseok Festival appearance on network television at KTVU FOX2 San Francisco. Photo Credit: Art Taekwondo

This means the date of Chuseok changes every year but usually falls in mid-September to mid-October. (Here is how Koreans used to use moon phases and why the U.S. and much of the world now conforms to the Gregorian calendar, with some Islamic holdouts upholding their Hijri lunar calendar system.)

Historians believe that Chuseok evolved from Gabae, a month-long weaving contest that took place in the Kingdom of Silla (57 B.C.E.s–935 C.E.) during the Three Kingdoms Era.

The holiday was momentous – Koreans gathered everything they had to provide a feast. After tending to their ancestors’ graves first thing in the morning, families performed charye ancestral rites at home. Bowing twice and offering a table of foods for dearly departed loved ones to enjoy in the afterlife, families then partook in the meal and gifted new clothes to children. 

In Korea, people still observe these traditions to varying degrees or hardly at all. Most working people and students get days off to rest and be with their families. They might look to the sky with their children to look for the rabbit in the moon, said to be busily making songpyeon – chewy half-moon shaped tteok, rice cakes. The fact that this is the lunar year of the Black Rabbit has added to the proliferation of rabbit imagery surrounding this year’s Chuseok.

Half-moon shaped songpyeon, a Chuseok feast staple of tteok (rice dough) filled with sweet red bean paste, mashed mung beans, or sugared sesame seeds and steamed with fragrant pine needles. Photo Credit:  Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS)
Half-moon shaped songpyeon, a Chuseok feast staple of tteok (rice dough) filled with sweet red bean paste, mashed mung beans, or sugared sesame seeds and steamed with fragrant pine needles. Photo Credit:  Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS)

Here on Earth, Korean humans make these “pine tteok” treats by closing chewy rice dough around a sweet deposit of red bean paste, mashed mung beans, or sugared sesame seeds, then steaming the dumpling-like pieces on a bed of aromatic pine needles. (Jin, the oldest member of K-pop boy band BTS who is currently serving in the Korean military, once shared his memories).

The only other native Korean holiday as significant is Seollal. Most Americans called this the Chinese New Year until shifting to the more inclusive term Lunar New Year to recognize the myriad Asian cultures celebrating the same thing in their own ways. 

Here in the U.S., Koreans in areas with robust communities like Los Angeles, Flushing, Queens, or Atlanta, Georgia have been celebrating Chuseok all along, alongside non-Korean friends eager to partake in the traditions or uttered to family abroad when the holiday came around. For other Korean Americans, Chuseok was only celebrated in private living rooms or churches with other Koreans. 

Many others never celebrated because there was not yet or recognition or knowledge of Chuseok, and their ancestors were either unknown or buried far away. Besides, one could always tuck a Korean feast into American Thanksgiving or substitute it entirely for turkey and stove top stuffing made of white bread.

But as Korean cultural references have become increasingly commonplace in the U.S. with added help from social media, more people, both Korean and non-Korean, are finding their way to Chuseok and other mid-autumn festivals. The first Bay Area Chuseok festival had 5,000 attendees; last year, it had 20,000.

 Attendees at the 'Wishes to the Moon' art installation of the Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga
Attendees at the ‘Wishes to the Moon’ art installation of the Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga

San Jose resident Ji Yoon Yoo used to make traditional Chuseok foods in Korea to mark the holiday whenever she traveled there to see her extended family. This was special because her nuclear family didn’t necessarily always celebrate, particularly while living for years throughout the Middle East and North Africa because of her father’s job. 

Once she started working as a radio producer for the major Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) network in Seoul after college, she thought she had settled in Korea once and for all. But she found herself in the U.S. when her husband decided to pursue his doctorate in Los Angeles, and stayed. 

Quite recently, she heard somebody say that the “Lunar New Year” may be a more inclusive term for the “Chinese New Year” because many Asian communities celebrate their own versions of the holiday. This was when she realized that she herself hadn’t thought twice about the Lunar New Year being referred to as the Chinese New Year while growing up in the Middle East.

Just so, mid-autumn harvest celebrations are not just “Korean Thanksgiving.” Numerous other East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian cultures, and Indigenous tribes of the Americas, which migrated from East Asia and other circumpolar regions millennia ago, have kept agriculturally rooted autumn celebrations with distinct traditions for many thousands of years. 

 Korean American rapper Rick Lee from hip-hop duo Year of the Ox, shakes hands while headlining last year's Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga
Korean American rapper Rick Lee from hip-hop duo Year of the Ox, shakes hands while headlining last year’s Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga

“That’s why it’s important to get communities together,” she said, “because you don’t know what you don’t know until somebody speaks up. And we can learn so much from each other.”

Yoo is excited to attend Saturday’s festivities with her family for the first time amid a diverse crowd. This will be an opportunity for her to show her U.S.-born daughter Chuseok traditions in full swing – one example of the lunar mid-autumn festivals celebrating the harvest moon.

The holiday is here to stay – one example is KCI’s success sustaining the Bay Area Chuseok Festival even after it was pushed online for two by the pandemic immediately following the inaugural festival in 2019.

KCI, which maintains an Instagram account called @sfchuseok for its annual event, is planning a lively program on the beautiful Presidio grounds, site of the genesis of the modern day city of San Francisco. As the National Park Service website acknowledges, this land as the native territory of the Yelamu local tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula. 

KCI’s greater mission is promoting Korean culture across different communities and generations by providing language lessons and partnering with organizations to provide youth, senior, health, and cultural programming.

Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors honored the organization for its contributions to the city and passed a resolution to designate Sept.10 to acknowledge Korean Chuseok Day.

San Francisco District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani will present the designation to KCI at the start of this year’s event and leaders such as Santa Clara vice mayor Kevin Park and San Francisco assessor recorder Joaquín Torres will be present.

 Guests of this year's Bay Area Chuseok Festival can expect to see K-pop dance from the Eclipse group again. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga
Guests of this year’s Bay Area Chuseok Festival can expect to see K-pop dance from the Eclipse group again. Photo Credit: Mark Shigenaga

This year’s festival will have the samgomu Buddhist three-drum dance and pangut percussion dancing by the Hansamo organization, singing by the Silicon Valley Korean Children’s Choir and Korean American Senior Choir, fan dancing and drumming by Urisawe, K-pop dance by Saori’s Project and Eclipse, and musical performances by Korean cover band Juicy Trees and rapper Son of Paper.

A much-anticipated guest is Art Taekwondo, a Taekwondo education, performance, and content creation group traveling from mixing taekwondo martial art moves with contemporary dance.

Food will come from the following AANHPI local businesses from throughout the Bay:

A vendor area will highlight makers Affinity Network, Anna’s Corner, Balada Dream, Craftivity, Donghui, Equitable Farming, Inc., Fervere Coffee, Hanjihee Classics, Lightning Yumeko, Love Glow, Mandoo Club, Min’s ClayArt, PCR Naturals, Take Root, and Tether Play Kits.

A song by Son of Paper, who will perform at the 2023 Bay Area Chuseok Festival

Family friendly activities will include a photo booth where people can try on hanbok traditional Korean clothing and centers where people can make paper lotus lanterns, learn Korean calligraphy, and create crafts with chopsticks. Attendees will also be able to write wishes to the Chuseok moon on colored pieces of paper and hang them up in an installation.

The fields will host traditional games like biseok-chigi (Hit the Tombstone), Tuho-Nori (Arrow Toss), jaegi-chagi (Jegichagi), jul darigi (Tug of War), and last but not least, mugunghwa kkochi pieot seumnida, the Red Light, Green Light type game made famous by being featured with a morbid twist in the very first episode of the 2021 Netflix show Squid Game

Look for your local Chuseok celebration. More and more organizations, institutions, and whole cities are starting to host Chuseok events. And these are becoming more than just localized observations of tradition but joyous occasions for everyone to discover and revel in Korean culture together. 

Art Taekwondo, pictured here at one of their performances, will take the stage at this year's Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Art Taekwondo
Art Taekwondo, pictured here at one of their performances, will take the stage at this year’s Bay Area Chuseok Festival. Photo Credit: Art Taekwondo

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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