Cross-Cultural Interaction, Holidays

A tradition worth sharing

Ever since I lived in South Korea, whenever I think of Thanksgiving I also think of Chuseok.

Chuseok is a Korean holiday, often billed as the Korean version of Thanksgiving. Indeed, it does have some similarities to the holiday that so many Americans know so well. It is a time when family gathers together, a time when they spend way too much time making far too much food.

That, however, is largely where the similarities end.

Chuseok is literally translated as “Autumn eve,” and it is traditionally a celebration of the autumn harvest. It is also a time when many Koreans pay respects to their ancestors.

Masses of people travel to their hometowns to gather with family and remember those who have come before them. One of the main ancestral-honoring rituals is called Charye. Traditional dishes and drinks are arranged in a very specific order on a low table inside the home, complete with candles and incense.

Once the ritual to remember the ancestors has been completed, the family may partake of the food, beginning with the oldest individuals and ending with the youngest. Elders are incredibly important in the Korean culture, so it’s hard for outsiders to even imagine how meaningful the rituals of Chuseok are.

Yet I might never have known any of this if it weren’t for the unique opportunity I had to live with a Korean family in South Korea for a year.

Chuseok is a tradition that is rarely shared with outsiders. Yet, because I was living with a Korean family, I was given the privilege to personally witness a celebration that few westerners have.

While my western friends were taking advantage of the national holiday to travel around the country, I was helping my host sisters prepare hangwa, songpyeon, and other traditional Korean foods for the Charye ceremony.

It was an unusual experience for me, and yet it remains one that I cherish dearly.

To be invited into such a personal, such a distinctly Korean celebration, was one of the highlights of the year I spent living in the country.

How does this relate to you?

Thanksgiving, like Chuseok, is a celebration unique to our country. It’s a wonderful time of family, food, and friendship…one that most international visitors will never experience.

A staggering percentage of foreign visitors never get invited into an American home during their time in the country. I believe this is one of the great tragedies of our generation – our globalized world gives us greater and greater access to people from all corners of the earth, and yet we are more and more often taking this blessing for granted.

It’s such a simple thing to invite someone into your home…and yet it could mean the world to the person you invite.

If you know any foreigners living among you, I encourage you to invite them to your Thanksgiving celebration this Thursday. Give them the blessing that was given to me all those years ago, the memory that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Who knows, they might even turn out to be the life of the party! 🙂

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1 thought on “A tradition worth sharing

  1. Great column, Lauren. I hope it inspires many American families to open their homes to visitors among us. Thanksgiving is one of few American holidays that doesn’t overwhelm with our materialism. Here’s to gratitude and loving feelings.

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