Chuseok, or Chusok (a sort of “Korean Thanksgiving,” but also a sort of Sukkot, a celebration of the Harvest) begins! Sometimes I wonder what it’s like on the streets of Seoul and in the countrysides of Korea this time of year on the eve of such a great holiday. People flying home to their families, people getting their ingredients together for song pyun (rice cakes) and fried fish and all the dishes in their festive meals.
Here–you would hardly notice the holiday exists, because of course this is America and not Korea, and the clock ticks to a different set of holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc., etc.)
I remember as a child, rising early during Chuseok, to pay homage to my ancestors–we would rise, rubbing the sleep (and not so thoroughly) from our eyes, and don our Korean dress, which would make a sound that only stiff silk makes, as we walked to the living room to a table laden with symbolic foods for our ancestors. My father would fill the cups with Korean wine. And then we would bow. The soup would be taken away (the ancestors had eaten their first course). And then bow. The main courses would be taken away. And then bow, each time the rustling of our silk clothing filling the dawn light.
Oh, and that food would not go to waste! We would eat it all, a healthy breakfast that morning before changing into our shorts and tshirts, and heading off to school in Suburban America.
My father made it a point to say our family home was “an island” in this country. Everyday we would come home and shed our “American” mainstream clothing and behaviors and cross some make believe bridge into a house where we would become “Korean” again. Eventually, this rift made me crazy–made me feel like two different kind of people…and I had to meld them together. But for awhile, it was very manageable and incredibly poignant.