Chuseok ("autumn evening"), also known as Hangawi ("the great middle (of autumn)"), is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in South Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. In North Korea, they only celebrate for the day of chuseok. Like many other harvest festivals around the world, it is held around the autumn equinox, i.e. at the very end of summer or in early autumn. It is the biggest traditional holiday in a year in South Korea.

As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon and rice wines such as sindoju. and dongdongju. There are two major traditions related to Chuseok: Charye (ancestor memorial services at home, also known as Jesa), and Seongmyo (family visit to the ancestral graves), which is usually accompanied by Beolcho (tidying graves, removing weeds around them).

Traditional Customs

In contemporary South Korea, on Chuseok, masses of people travel from large cities to their hometowns to pay respect to the spirits of their ancestors. Chuseok celebrates the bountiful harvest and strives for the next year to be better than the last. People perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning. Then, they visit the tombs of their immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors. South Koreans consider autumn the best season of the year due to clear skies, cool winds, and it is a perfect harvesting season. Harvest crops are attributed to the blessing of ancestors. Chuseok is commonly incorrectly translated as "Korean Thanksgiving" in American English despite the holidays being vastly different in origin and celebration.

Charye

Charye is one of the ancestral memorial rites celebrated during Chuseok, symbolising the returning of favours and honouring ancestors and past generations. The rite involves the gathering of families in holding a memorial service for their ancestors through the harvesting, preparation and presentation of special foods as offerings. The rite embodies the traditional view of spiritual life beyond physical death, respecting the spirits of the afterlife that now also serve to protect their descendants. The foods offered have traditionally varied across provinces depending on what was available, but commonly constitute of freshly harvested rice, rice cakes (songpyeon) and fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. The arrangement of the foods of Charye on the table are also notable: traditionally rice and soup are placed on the north and fruits and vegetables are placed on the south; meat dishes are served on the west and in the middle, and rice cake and some drinks such as makgeolli or soju are placed on the east. These details can vary across regions.

Seongmyo and Beolcho

Seongmyo and Beolcho are also done around Chuseok week. Seongmyo is a visiting to ancestral gravesites and Beolcho is the activity to remove weeds around the grave to clean their ancestor's site.