Korean Folk Holiday: Chusok


Though Korean people have long adopted the international convention of the solar calendar system, the traditional lunar cycle still commands considerable allegiance.

The festival days by the lunar calendar, which our people observe, can be traced to thousands of years ago. In the Three Kingdoms in the period of middle ages the following holidays mainly connected with farming seasons such as New Years Day, Tano (May 5) and Chusok (August 15) began to be observed.

Among them, Chusok is said to be a Korean version of Thanksgiving Day and cheerfully celebrated by Korean people as one of their most important national holidays. Chusok is the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, and this year Koreans observe the day on Oct. 5. The Korean word Chusok means autumnal evening with a blight moonlight.

On the Chusok holiday, functions were held in celebration and anticipation of a bumper crop.

The festival events varied in form according to different regions, and in many region, weaving contests used to be held accompanied with dancing and singing. The contest is said to have been held for women to thank them for their agricultural and domestic work.

It is a long-standing custom to visit ancestral tombs with food offerings made from new crops of the year to present the day of Chusok to the departed souls.

Typical foods served on the Chusok holiday includes Sirutok (steamed rice cake), Chaltok (glutinous rice cake) and Songpyon (a rice cake steamed on a layer of pine needles) which are all made from new crops.

On that day, Korean wrestling, swinging, jumping seesaw and other folk games used to be played.

Though in a more simplified way than in ancient times, Korean people today still observe the Chusok holiday, celebrating it in their homes.

 

Games and Contests

Swinging

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Swinging is typical of women's game.

Originally, Korean people hang the swing from a stunt branch of tall pine trees or a willow tree with long ropes to enjoy wide and high swinging.

The swinging game was gradually systematized and contests were judged in various ways. The swinger had to touch a bell hung in the air with her foot. Or a graduated cord was attached to the trapeze to measure the height the swinger attained.

The horizontal bar of the frame from which the swing hangs was as high as 11 meters and the two poles of the frame were set apart two meters at the top and 3.5 meters on the ground. Thee two poles were tied with two horizontal beams in their upper part. A bell was hung from the bar connected with the graduated pole. In the swinging contest the bell was at first hung at the height chosen by the swinger and then gradually raised by 20, 50 cm and one meter.

 

Jumping Seesaw

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Jumping seesaw is a widespread game which is popular among Korean women.

There are different stories about the origin of the jumping seesaw in Korea. One of the stories was that women started seesawing beside a wall of prison to see their husbands in it. Another said that Korean women who had to work at home all the day invented it to look at the outside world over a wall.

From ancient times, they enjoyed jumping seesaw, and the old saying goes that "Jumping seesaw in January prevents women from getting stickers in their feet in that year." The saying tells that jumping seesaw is a good exercise for women to keep themselves in good shape.

On fete days girls and young women as well as children and middle-aged women in their best clothes played jumping seesaw, displaying their skill and nice figures.

In jumping seesaw they performed various feats such as somersault in the air, stretching their legs forward, and backward or sideways before falling to the ground, bending their waist backward or sideways and conducting rhythmical movements to the tune of a folk song.

 

Archery contest

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From old times young Korean people held archery contests and other games in the contest yard even in out-of-the-way villages. The mural of an ancient tomb of the Koguryo period in Kangso District shows a scene of contest between four men on horseback shooting arrows at the targets set on the top of five long stakes. The contest was attended by two umpires and a counter of scores who conducted the contest in accordance with strict rules.

In the past, archery contestants were divided into two sides and shooting consisted of three or five rounds and in each round a contestants shot five arrows. The highest total scores of hits after three or five rounds determined the winner. On the day of the contest many people gathered and cheered the champions by dancing and singing.

 

Wrestling

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Korean wrestling is a popular traditional sport.

Korean wrestling is a contest in which two wrestlers in a fixed posture grapple with each other to throw the opponent to the ground. In Korean wrestling each wrestlers holds his adversary's waist with the right hand and the adversary's thigh band with his left hand.

Every year, wrestling contests were held on public holidays where the wrestlers' stalwart fighting spirit, agility and fine techniques were displayed.

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