Korean-style Thanksgiving: BYU-Hawaii Korean students share how they celebrate Chuseok

Written by: 
Esther Insigne
North Korean refugees and their family members pray for their ancestors in North Korea during a ceremony to celebrate the Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving Day, at Imjingak Pavilion in Paju near the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom, South Korea, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Millions of South Koreans began the annual mass migration to their hometowns on Saturday to spend the major traditional holiday of Chuseok with their family members

Chuseok, also known as Korea’s Thanksgiving Day, had families gathering from all over the world to celebrate the three-day holiday this year. Families reunited to give thanks to their ancestors and eat together while sharing stories as a way of catching up with one another. BYU-Hawaii students from Korea shared their memories and family traditions as they celebrated together in Laie.

Also known as Hangawi, Chuseok has been celebrated in Korea for hundreds of years. Traditionally, families would gather during the night of the full harvest moon to remember their ancestors and give thanks for a bountiful harvest, according to asiasociety.org. Families also fill a table with food, including some newly harvested crops, as part of an ancestral memorial ceremony called charye.  

Jina Yun, a senior studying psychology, explained that every family has a different way of celebrating Chuseok. “We have tombstones for our ancestors and I usually go there and clean them because we have to cut all the weeds.” Yun goes with her father and younger brother to clean out the tombstones.

During the holiday, families prepare a variety of food as offerings for their ancestors for their rituals. Hye Jin Yum, a sophomore, said, “We prepare different kinds of jeon (전) and particular kinds of fish. We also prepare fruits and meat during Chuseok too.”

One of the most popular dishes you will see prepared during Chuseok is songpyeon (송편). Songpyeon is a type of rice cake traditionally prepared in a half-moon shape and eaten around this time of the year, according to asiasociety.org. It can be filled with red beans, honey, and sesame seeds, depending on the preferences of the family.

Oftentimes, families bond over the preparation of songpyeon and see it as a great way of getting to know one another. Yun recalled the days when she would make the traditional food with her family members. “I always made songpyeon with my mother. Sometimes, I [would] compare my songpyeon shape with my mother because [she] makes really pretty ones while mine [are] okay…

“In Korea, we have an old saying: if you make pretty songpyeon that means you will have pretty girl babies. So, my father is always like, ‘Oh you don’t have pretty girls.’ So, I always say, ‘I’m not pretty, but [mom] always made pretty songpyeon.’ That’s usually a really fun memory for me.”

Charity Jung, a senior studying psychology, shared how she and her husband made some of the side dishes and had a simple celebration together. She also shared how she missed celebrating it back home in Korea after coming to Hawaii to study.

“I miss it a lot, not just because of the food, but the gathering time that I have with my relatives… When we think about it, just like how we have Thanksgiving or Christmas in the [United] States, that’s the time that we can actually meet our family and then just have a fun time together. That’s what I miss.”

Hong Bin Lee, a sophomore studying computer science shared his favorite thing about Chuseok. “For me, my family lives apart so, it’s really hard to meet them. Holidays are the only days to meet my family. So, meeting relatives is my favorite part about this holiday.”

Yum also agreed and added, “My favorite thing about Chuseok is that our families gather together and then we eat together and just talk a lot. It is hard for us to meet sometimes but because of Chuseok or other big celebrations, we can gather and eat.”


Date Published: 
Monday, October 8, 2018
Last Edited: 
Monday, October 8, 2018