Preparing for Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving)
I’m sure that every married woman in Korea is feeling the pressure… after all, Korean thanksgiving is just a few days away and it means slavery! The pressure is greatest for the first daughter-in-law of the family… Korean holidays are the reason why you shouldn’t marry a first son!
Chuseok (chu-seok) or Korean thanksgiving is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month (August 15) of the lunar calendar. This year, it will fall on September 18th but the holiday starts from the 17th and ends on the 19th. Unfortunately (or shall I say fortunately?), we’re just going to have a three-day holiday. That translates to heavy traffic on Saturday when people from Seoul will start their exodus to the provinces and on Monday on the way back. Remember that about a quarter of the total population (45 million) of Korea lives in the capital city. My brothers-in-law have decided to go to the province by train. So we’ll have to take our car on Friday since we also have to bring their things with us.
My husband’s family is quite big… three sons and a daughter (that’s already big in Korea). They are all married… my husband’s the third son so my responsibility isn’t that big. Married daughters in a family join their in-laws for these occassions. They are stricken off the (original) family register when they get married and becomes a part of their husband’s family. Anyway, we will just buy gifts for his parents and nothing for the rest :D. My first sister-in-law (keun hyongnim) will be my mother-in-law’s (omonim) right hand when it comes to food preparation and grocery shopping. I and my second sister-in-law (chageun hyongnim) will just help with setting the table since the guys will be the dishwashers. Normally, the men don’t do anything but the situation is quite different in my husband’s family.
Aside from the hardwork and the traffic, “Chu-seok” is also a financial burden. In the early morning of thanksgiving day, the family (or shall I say the women?) prepares for “jesa” or “ancestral rites” to honor the dead. There are specific foods that needed to be served in special dishes or wares meant for the rite alone. We haven’t spent for this occassion, but my husband said that 200,000 KRW ($200) is enough. In my husband’s family, we only have to spend this much three times a year… seollal (Chinese New Year), chuseok (thanksgiving) and family jesa (should have been seven times but my father-in-law thought it impractical to do so). The men, in their black suits, perform this ceremony first… bowing in front of the altar (with tons of food offered for their ancestors) several times. The women in my family are asked to do the same as well. Of course, you should be presentable and in our case we wear the “han-bok” or the traditional Korean dress. Korean women despise this because it’s difficult to put on but I like it for some reason… maybe because they hated it?
After the jesa on thanksgiving day, we have breakfast. It takes about two hours to prepare for the jesa, so imagine waking up at 6 AM and having breakfast at 9 AM? Koreans don’t usually eat breakfast the way we do… coffee and pandesal first before a heavier meal of fried rice and dried fish or egg. So during this time, I try to wake up earlier than everybody so that I can have a piece of bread or fruit before the work. After breakfast, we pack some foods and go to the mountains to pay respects to their ancestors’ graves.
A chance to spend time with family
The nice thing about “chu-seok” or Korean thanksgiving is when after everything is done. We just go to some park for a picnic and play “go-stop”, a Korean card game that I’m very good at (Cha Seung Won played this alone in the movie “Teacher Mr. Kim”)! In the evening, we go to “norae-bang” or play some more “go-stop.”
I guess despite the stress of this occassion, I kinda look forward to it… if only for the kalbichim (stewed beef short ribs) that will be served during our meals. Speaking of kalbi (beef short ribs), my husband volunteered while drunk to buy them for the family. That’s a lot of money… about 200,000 KRW for four kilos. Luckily, my “hyongnim/s” (sisters-in-law) already ordered a few days before that…