Chuseok in 2021 was no different than the one last year since the pandemic hit the world.
For a few years I have joined my sabeomnim (taekwondo teacher) and soenbae (senior) celebrating Chuseok in our dojang (academy) the week after the thanksgiving holiday. We would be eating songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cake), drinking sikhye (sweet rice beverage), and chatting after the class was over.
But not this year.
Since the Corona infection cases skyrocketed and people were forced to work and study from home, our dojang closed the class for moms, the one I was enrolled to. Moms are needed to assist their children in home-based learning. Practicing taekwondo in the morning was definitely not a priority for moms.
On last year’s Chuseok many of my taekwondo sunbae went back to Korea. It was right after Indonesia opened again its border. They stayed until the 2021 New Year; what a quiet time in the dojang and in our small town it was.
This year’s Chuseok was still quieter than usual without any celebration in our taekwondo dojang, but I got a nice surprise at my door in the evening of September 20, 2021, one day before the full moon.
A good friend texted me earlier that she had to go to Jakarta, the capitol of Indonesia, to get songpyeon for Chuseok. She used to buy it at local 떡 집, tteok jib, the store which sells rice cakes in our town, but unfortunately the store has stopped operating ever since the pandemic occured.
The songpyeon was delivered to my door by her driver. She didn’t come to my house by herself because she still limits her social interaction and strictly does physical distancing due to the pandemic.
What a pleasant surprise it was!
I’ve been friends with Han Byeol, the said friend, since 2016. We go to the same taekwondo academy and our children also attend the same taekwondo class. We exchange pictures of the children through Whatsapp every now and then, but my kids already forget how Han Byeol Imo (aunt) looks like.
So, I showed them this picture and told them a bit about the history of Chuseok.
Chuseok is a major mid-autumn harvest festival and a three-day holiday in South Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. It is also celebrated in North Korea. In China and Vietnam it is called the mid-autumn festival.
This year’s Chuseok fell from the 20th until the 22nd of September, with the full moon appeared on September 21, 2021. The South Korea government discouraged people to travel and/or visit their ancestral hometown to contain the spread of Covid-19.
My friend told me the two important traditions done in regards of Chuseok.
First, she holds Charye, 차례, or the memorial services for her late father and other ancestors. Listening to how the procession goes was definitely a very humbling experience for me.
Second, since she has no family in Indonesia (her mother still lives in Korea), she can’t hold Seongmyo (성묘) and Beolcho (벌초), which are visiting and tidying the ancestral graves.
I always feel sad for her and her family. It must be very tough to live so far away from your parents, extended family members, and homeland. They must wish to be together during a prominent event like Chuseok.
Sinde I am allergic to alcohol, in the past I have regretfully declined the offer to taste rice wines such as sindoju and dongdongju on every Chuseok. I’m happy enough to settle with drinking sikhye, a sweet beverage also made from rice.
Han Byeol told me to keep the songpyeon in the freezer and to take it out only when I wanted to eat it. She advised me to steam it for about ten minutes. Eating it while warm and melting in my mouth is a festive feeling by itself.
My eldest asked me why the songpyeon is shaped like that, not fully round like the moon. I told her that ever since the era of Baekje and Silla Kingdoms long, long time ago, the Koreans believe that a half-moon shape is an indicator of a bright future or victory.
A half-moon shape will eventually change into a full-moon shape, the representation of the sense of completeness and finality. That being said, Korean families gather and eat half-moon-shaped songpyeon together during Chuseok to wish for a brighter future in the upcoming days.
I know one month already passed since Chuseok, but my wish for whoever reads this article remains the same, no matter you’re Koreans or not, no matter you’re celebrating Chuseok or not: