Fall is here, which means the countdown to Thanksgiving has officially begun!!! It is my favorite time of the year…warm drinks re-enter our lives, the leaves begin changing, and there is a crispness to the morning air.
In the United States, we have Thanksgiving, a time to gather with friends and family, eat, and be thankful. Likewise, South Korea has Chuseok, a similar holiday of offering thanks traditionally founded to celebrate a bountiful harvest. It has become a national time of rest. Each year this holiday falls on a different day, because the lunar calendar is followed.
Chuseok, which isn’t traditionally my own, has integrated itself into my life through my special person.
Through the years I have known and loved him, I have witnessed my beau ignore his own Korean holidays as year after year we have celebrated my own. We have crept through Halloween by watching scary movies and eating obscene amounts of candy, bowed our heads over my grandmother’s turkey and ham at thanksgiving, surprised one another with small gifts at Christmas, and clinked glasses over many other holidays that are important here at home but not as commonly celebrated (or with nearly as much excess) in South Korea. For some reason, his holidays have always fallen by the wayside. After meeting in college, I watched as he solemnly studied while eating take-out for his first Chuseok meal away from his family. The second Chuseok came and went while he was surrounded in the dining hall by classmates who had no idea the holiday even existed. Finally, the past two years were spent serving in the South Korean Armed Forces without vacation to go home during the holidays.
So, for four years he didn’t celebrate a national holiday that means so much to him.
This year, I decided to step up and take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to once again listen to his protesting that it didn’t matter. The first thing I needed to do was to learn to cook Korean food. I made many efforts to learn while living abroad in South Korea, but did not have the knowledge or recipes in my arsenal to pull off a holiday meal for a large group… Thank you Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking cookbook for teaching me everything I needed to know! The meal wouldn’t have been a success without you (If you do not know this blogger and cookbook author, please go check her out. She has truly amazing and authentic Korean recipes). I then needed to invite his friends and triple-check my plans. And finally, I needed to throw a Chuseok party that made up for lost time, celebrating his heritage, culture, and traditions.
The whole event was much easier imagined that accomplished! I had my hands deep in Japchae, a traditional noodle dish, food frying in a skillet, and a cake baking in the oven. My sister, besides cleaning our apartment from top to bottom and making multiple trips to the grocery store, bless her heart, screened in our porch all by herself just for the event. Let’s just say, we had our work cut out for us. But somehow after all the chaos and mishaps, we pulled off a party, with only a little chocolate on my face from last minute cake icing before the guests arrived.
And that is how the evening came to be full of laughter, stories, and games. It was our first Chuseok celebration in America together, but it is now a tradition that will continue in all our years to come. I saw the meaning of giving a gift of celebration, and my beau learned the importance of celebrating your roots and traditions no matter where you are or what is happening in life. Taking the time to celebrate the important things in life makes bonds stronger and hearts warmer. Happy Chuseok everyone!!!