Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving

Lucky me, a 5-day weekend already!  Today is Chuseok, althoug perhaps best known for the awful traffic that accompanies nearly half the population of Seoul leaving for their hometown, Chuseok is actually a harvest holiday full of family gatherings and festivities.  I’m looking forward to having some time to explore the city and visit Bukhansan National Park.  The rest of Korea is busy traveling; if they aren’t going home then they are taking advantage of this 5-day weekend and flying somewhere for vacation.  I have students who are going to Singapore, Japan, China, Thailand and even Australia.  Others are staying in Korea and going to Gwanju, Busan or Jeju Island.  Either way it means no work until Monday!

Tuesday at school we celebrated Chuseok with a full day of festivities.  I’ve been teaching harvest & farming lessons for the past few weeks and comparing Chuseok to America’s Thanksgiving.  The kids enjoyed my lessons but definitely liked the games and traditions on Tuesday better.  We started with some traditional Korean games.  Tuho is a game where they thrown 50-60 cm long darts at a bucket.  It was a hit even though most of my little munchkins could barely sink 1 of their 5 darts.  After a few rounds they got better and I even had one little girl hit 4 out of 5!

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After Tuho we went over to Sabangchigi.  This is pretty much the same as the hopscotch I grew up with; the board is slightly different with more triangles where I was used to squares and rectangles but in the end its the same game.  My kids had fun jumping around but always forgot to pick up the bean bag and didn’t quite have the motor control to hop from one foot to both feet.  Either way they had fun.

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After these games we went back to the classroom to make songpyeon.  They are little rice cakes which we’ve had a few times for snack;  it starts with a ball of dough. You dig a little hole into and fill with premixed spices and sugar.  Well I always thought they were rice cakes but maybe its a rice dough because we didn’t actually add rice to the center.  You close them up similarly to a dumpling but as my principal, Mrs. Yi, pointed out they are not dumplings.  She popped in and demonstrated for us explaining that they should be like a half moon shape and are much smaller than dumplings.  We loaded our raw songpyeon into a tray and sent them up to the kitchen; next up we make jegichagis!

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These are really fun to make.  Its a little craft that turns out to be basically a hackey sack.  We made ours with strips of colored paper and a bottle cap filled with coins to give it some weight.  The kids really enjoyed ripping the strips to give it a little more flair.  I even got to make my own!

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Before lunch we had an arm wrestling session.  Their competitive side came out and the screams of strength and encouragement were suprising from these little guys.  With a broad grin the winners moved on in a mini-tournament.  Everyone had a good time and we declared Brandon my class’ champion.  We did a few more matches when Mary came in to inform me that our champion was going to face another classroom’s winner.

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This is where the cheering really went nuts.  It was nearly 5 minutes of hooting and hollering and whenever Doyun (from the other class) looked like he was about to win, Brandon would let out an anime style scream and bring their arms back to center.  It was hilarious and amazing at the same time.  Eventually Brandon couldn’t muster the strength anymore and Doyun was able to pin him.

After lunch we got to bring our new jegis up to the roof and play some jegichagi.  I kept trying to show the kids how to get more than 1 kick out of it but they preferred to just kick it as far as they could.  While on the roof we danced Ganggangsullae, a traditional Chuseok circle dance.  We had some music while chanting “gang-gang-sullae.”  My coteacher told me it was a meaningless phrase but helped bring in a bountiful harvest. Meaningless or not the kids loved jumping around on the roof.  I took a break from the circle to snap a few pictures and take in the skyline around us.

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After our dance we had some time for gijisijuldarigi aka tug-of-war.  Traditionally the game is all about teamwork and working together.  It symbolizes the hard work required to bring in a bountiful harvest.  Koreans would work together to make the rope out of rice straws.  Lucky us there was an actual rope waiting and my students went absolutely bonkers over it.  I’m not sure they really know what they were doing but they are ultra-competitive and I let them do a few rounds switching up the teams.  After a quick break I decided to see if I could face all of them at once.  Its only 10 of them and I was pretty sure I had more strength in my little pinky than they did combined; plus half of them got distracted and let go or ran to a different spot on the rope.  I kept it going for a while pulling them back to center and laughing all the while.  They loved it and the activities were done for the day so I dragged it out for as long as I could.  Eventually I gave in and pretended to fall down; after winning they decided to pile on me screaming “Mike Teacher.”  We all laughed and played on the roof for a little longer before heading down to the classroom for a quick Super Why video and “home time.”

One aspect of Chuseok that I really enjoyed is the gift giving.  This is in many ways like the way we celebrate Christmas & Hannukah (Christmas here is apparently more of a couples holiday so most people don’t give gifts).  In the days preceding Chuseok I was lucky enough to get a few gifts from my students.  I got some expensive rice cakes and other snacks, a gorgeous silver chopstick & spoon set and bottle of cologne.  I gave hugs and thank you’s for all and bought ice cream for my after school students missed out on our morning festivities.

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2 thoughts on “Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving

  1. Pingback: Lunar New Year at a hogwon | Live, Learn, Travel, Teach

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