What happens at Chuseok?

Chuseok(추석) Korean Thanksgiving begins today. It’s the biggest holiday of the year so there’ll be an exodus out of Seoul as lots of people head off to visit family in other parts of Korea. It’s usually pretty quiet in Seoul, so it’s a good time to get out and about in the city. We’re going to my in-laws and will stay overnight as the actual memorial ceremony called 차례 cha rye will be done early tomorrow morning. There’s lots of food to prepare and much of it will be done today (mostly by my mother-in-law and a tiny bit by me).

There are various fried dishes (전 jon) and tofu, and sweet potatoes to fry, chestnuts 밤 to peel, rice cakes (송편 songpyeon) to mould and fill with beans, soup to prepare, and namul vegetables – spinach, bracken, and bell flower – to season. Then there’ll be more food to prepare tomorrow morning including meat, fish, rice, and fruit.

Early tomorrow morning, we’ll get up and put the food in the special dishes (제기 chei-gi) which are usually made of wood or brass and used for ancestral rites. There should be an odd number of items on each dish – 5 slices of tofu, 3 pears, etc. And we have to slice the top and bottom off the apples and Korean pears. Then these dishes are placed on the memorial service table 차롓상 (cha rye sang) in a particular order. I don’t know the exact order as I don’t lay the table – traditionally the women prepare the food and then the men lay the food on the memorial service table.  Generally speaking, the meat and fish go towards the back of the table near the rice and soup laid out for the ancestors, and the fruit and vegetables are placed towards the front of the table.

When the table is ready, the men of the family bow twice ( 절 cheol) to the ancestors in front of the memorial table. Later we can clear the table. We have to put the food into regular dishes for our breakfast as the chei-gi dishes are only used for the memorial service. We’ll have some Korean liquor too with breakfast. After that we can relax before doing the dishes and settling down to some Korean Chuseok telly.


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