This weekend was Chuseok, a Korean harvest festival based on the lunar calendar. Often called “Korea’s Thanksgiving,” Chuseok is a time for feasting, gift-giving, and spending time with family. It was the first time my busy host family shared a meal together, and it was my first time meeting my host dad’s family.
On Sunday, my host family and I traveled to Miryang, a country town about an hour outside of Gimhae. I thought Goesan was rural, but it is like New York City compared to Miryang! Miryang is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by rice fields, farms, and small village homes. One of these homes belonged to my host dad’s parents, who invited us for the evening.
I met my host dad’s parents, as well as his brothers and their families. With all the aunts, uncles, and cousins, there were about 15 of us in total. The uncles and cousins spoke a little English with me, and I introduced myself in Korean to the grandparents. I also presented some warm winter socks and homemade cookies as a Chuseok gift and a thank you for including me in the holiday celebrations.
For most of the afternoon, my host sisters and their cousins taught me some traditional Korean games, including a matching card game (which I always lost) and a pebble game called “gonggi” (which I also always lost!). Gonggi is similar to jacks, but without a bouncing ball. Gonggi has five pebbles that the player tosses onto the ground. The player picks up one pebble, throws it in the air, and picks up another pebble on the ground before catching the pebble in the air. Players repeat this until they have all the pebbles in their hands. There are many variations, but I could barely do the easiest level. I will need to practice a lot more if I ever want to win! I also brought a deck of cards and UNO!, so we played Old Maid (or “The Joker Game” as Su Bin calls it) and some intense rounds of UNO!
For dinner, we sat together at a table on the floor in the living room. Unlike in America, we didn’t binge on turkey, pumpkin pie, and sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows. For our Chuseok meal, we ate galbi, which is Korean beef, and soup with tofu and shrimp. It was delicious!
After the sunset, we walked outside and watched the full moon rise over the mountains, lighting up the sky and the fields. There were a few street lights, but most of the countryside was dark. The picture doesn’t do it justice.
Then we walked a little further down the country road to perform one of the most famous Chuseok traditions – making a wish upon a lantern. At first I didn’t realize what we were doing, and I wondered why my host dad was carrying an empty garbage bag. I finally figured it out when someone took out a lighter. We all made our wishes, then watched the lantern float into the sky.
“What did you wish for?” I asked Ye Bin as we walked back to the grandparents’ house.
“My sister college,” she said. “I think all wish Su Bin college.”
Su Bin had many college interviews and auditions in September and even more in October, so wishing for her success made sense.
“What you wish for?” she asked.
“A happy and healthy year for everyone,” I answered, looking up at the lantern that was still soaring toward the heavens.
As we drove home that night, I thought of how grateful I was to be included in a family tradition and to feel so welcomed. I remembered that I would not be home in New York for a year and would miss so many birthdays and holidays. It would be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas I would spend away from my American family. But days like Chuseok remind me that I can experience new traditions and holidays. Perhaps I can share a few of my own, too.