Monday, September 12, 2011

The Chuseok Moon

Dear Korean,

What is the significance of the moon in modern Chuseok celebrations? E.g., are modern Chuseok celebrations more moon-focused than Easter? The date of Easter is also set by the moon (Sunday of the first full moon after spring equinox). Also, the special Easter food the hot cross bun is believed to have originated as symbolizing the four quarters of the moon. You could say the origins of Easter revolve around the moon. However, nobody in modern times thinks of Easter as a lunar celebration (the eggs, rabbits and Christian elements being the main focus now). How does that compare with Chuseok, where the main focus seems to be on family ceremonies?

Eemo


Monday, September 12 is the official day of chuseok, one of the most important traditional Korean holidays. Hope you did not forget to bow before your ancestors and enjoy some delicious songpyeon.

The question is rather interesting. The moon is very significant for chuseok, not in the least because chuseok's date is set by the lunar calendar. Chuseok is always August 15 by lunar calendar, when the moon is said to be biggest and brightest. Songpyeon, a type of rice cake that is the highlight of chuseok food, is shaped to mimic the shape of the moon. But how big of a role does the moon play in modern celebrations of chuseok?

Probably the right answer is: not as big of a role as it played traditionally, but still a very significant role. It is true that in the modern days, people rarely have celebrations that are explicitly connected to the moon, like ganggangsullae [강강술래] -- a communal "moon dance" where people (usually women) sing and dance in a circle under the chuseok moonlight.

Ganggangsullae under the moon
(source)

However, although modern Koreans rarely engage in chuseok celebrations that are explicitly connected to the moon, chuseok is still very much thought of as a type of moon celebration. Koreans still constantly refer to the bright chuseok moon. For example, in last week's episode of the hit reality show "I am a Singer" [나는 가수다], one of the singers quipped about the fact that he had to sing a song callled "The Moon's Ruin" [달의 몰락] on the chuseok weekend. Also, a quick Google Image search for the word 추석 results in a lot of images that feature the moon.

With that said, enjoy the chuseok moon everyone. The Korean Family will cook up some Korean party food, invite some people over, and look into the full moon as well.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for the information and Happy Chuseok!

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  2. participated in 차례 for the first time in 9 years. It was a weird feeling, but in a good way. Hope you had happy 추석!

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  3. I teach English here in Korea. When I got back to school after Chuseok, one of the Korean English teachers asked me if I had made a wish while looking at the moon. He said Koreans believe that if you make a wish on the Chuseok full moon, it will come true. It's definitely possible that that is only a local or family custom, but to me that is at least an example of the significance of the moon in modern Chuseok celebrations.

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  4. The eighth lunar month should not be referred to as "August." The word "August" really is specific to the Western Gregorian solar calendar. "October" actually means eighth month. But, that is unwieldy. Chuseok is on the 15th Day, 8th Lunar month. A better way needs to be invented to discuss lunar months in English.

    ReplyDelete

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