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Chuseok origin and rituals
2004-09-02 VIEW: 6165
August 15 of the lunar calendar is Chuseok, one of two major
holidays for Korean people, along with Solnal, or lunar New Year.
Chuseok is also called "Hangawi" in pure Korean (the word
"Chuseok" comes from the Chinese word meaning late fall).
"Han" means big and "gawi," in old Korean, means
middle. Consequently, the compounded word means fine, grand day
in the middle of August.
Hangawi is the day best represented by riches and thanksgiving, as it occurs near the end of the annual rice and fruit farming cycle. Therefore, fresh fruits and plenty of rice have always been around near Hangawi. With a typically clear blue autumn sky and cool, pleasant air, there even is an old saying that was once widespread among Koreans: "Neither more nor less than Hangawi."
A traditional holiday having outlived all the kingdoms and governments on the Korean peninsula, the day has been celebrated with an equal amount of cheer in both of the two Koreas. According to North Korean defectors, Chuseok has never lost its status as a major holiday in North Korea, nor has the communist government ever banned old family rituals of the day, such as charye (ancestral ceremony).
North Koreans spend Chuseok at their ancestral graveyards from early in the morning as a token of respect and thanks. While South Koreans usually do charye ahead of the outing to graveyards, which is called "seongmyo,'' North Koreans do seongmyo without charye.
Sharing and thanksgiving, of course, are two key ingredients of the holiday, but Hangawi would have never been complete without playing various traditional games. After all, Hangawi itself is known to have originated from an old game of Silla Kingdom (57 BC to 935 AD).
The story goes that during the reign of King Yuri, married women from all over the country gathered at the capital city of Gyeongju in July of the lunar calendar and were divided into two groups for a weaving competition that lasted until the current timeframe of Chuseok. After the King decided on the winner, the winning team danced in joy, while the losers served the winners with delicious dishes as a penalty.
Once the food was prepared, the two groups sat around the table to enjoying the meal together, sing and dance or playing a game or two under the bright full moon. The day was called "gabae" in Silla, and later became Hangawi to be celebrated as the biggest national holiday of the kingdom.
"Ganggangsullae," "Geobuknori (Turtle Play)", "Somoginori (A Cow Feeding Game)" and "Sossaum (Bullfighting)" are among some of popular games that used to be played nationwide during Hangawi. Ssirum, best described as Korean wrestling, has also been played on the day, as well as on Dano day on May 5 in lunar calendar.
Ganggangsullae is a women's circle dance, which is considered
to have originated in the southern coastal area. Its proto type
is traced back to ancient tribal festivals. However, historians
think that the group dance took its current form about 500 years
ago, as admiral Yi Sun-shin let female residents of the southern
coastline dance the circle dance around a campfire on top of hills
to scare the Japanese troops during "Imjinwaeran," the
Japanese invasion of the then Joseon Kingdom from 1592 to 1598.
Dancing Ganggangsullae, women form a big circle and dance hand in hand taking large brisk steps. During the dance, the best singer of the group begins a song, each part of which is answered by refrains from the rest of the group.
Geobuknori was done from the time of King Munmu of the Silla Kingdom, and later became popular in Gyeonggi and Chungcheong Provinces as a somewhat ritual event to wish town folk good luck. For the ritual, two men, one front and the other behind, wear a thatched turtle costume and stop by each house, leading a group of dancers and musicians to beg for food and drinks, saying "I'm thirsty after a long journey through the ocean." The edible food leftovers were often distributed to needy people.
Somoginori is similar to Geobuknori in that two people go inside an animal-like (in this case cow, instead of turtle) costume for the ritual and move around houses wishing people luck. Different from Geobuknori, which is performed to expel all the wicked, evil spirits out of each family home, people prays for bountiful rice harvests of the next year when doing somoginori. The ritual is has been especially popular in the central region of the peninsula, including in parts of Hwanghae Province.
Sossaum, as it sounds, is a fight between two bulls. It has been the hottest game in the South Gyeongsang Province for a long time, but also is performed in Gangwon, Gyeonggi and Hwanghae Provinces. The bullfight is held under strict rules (e.g.: the bull whose knee falls during the fight loses), and the bulls have been taken care of from when they were calves, as winning a bullfight competition was considered to be a great honor.
Last but not least, ssirum might look similar to Japanese sumo wrestling, but is very different in that Ssirum players hold a cotton strap fastened onto their opponent's waist and thigh called "satba" and attempt to throw the other to the ground using various skills. "Pushing" is rather monotonously used in sumo to force opponents out of the ring to win. It is a unique spectacle in the sports world to see a small ssirum player beat a much bigger one by using dazzling skills like "tuijipgi."