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How Korea celebrates Chuseok

2014-09-02

Polished green zucchinis, eggplants ripened to dark purple, fat cabbages, chili peppers and cucumbers … all these fresh vegetables are displayed in neat rows to greet Chuseok holiday shoppers.

This year’s Chuseok holiday begins on Saturday and markets around the country are packed with people shopping for holiday fare. The markets will continue to bustle until the very day of Chuseok, because one or two carts of food won’t be enough to make all the treats for relatives and guests visiting for the holiday.

(Woman 1) I bought apples, pears, grapes, and watermelons. My father is the eldest son of the family so people all come to our house. There will be about 15 to 20 people.
(Woman 2) I think we are going to have many guests, because my granddaughter is celebrating her first birthday. I’m going to cook delicious food and have fun with my family.
(Woman 3) I came to buy some ribs for my family. About 30 of our family members will gather at the eldest brother’s house this year.


The overall atmosphere is one of anticipation and happiness, but these shoppers can’t help but worry about inflation. When one’s paycheck cannot catch up with soaring prices, shopping becomes more of an irritating brain game than a joyful ritual.



(Woman 1) Our financial conditions are not that good.
(Woman 2) It’s too early in the year to have good fruits.
(Woman 3) New fruits would be cheaper, but they haven’t been harvested yet. So I’m spending a lot of money for Chuseok.
(Woman 4) I think I’ll have to spend about 500 dollars, with my children coming home and all. This is no joke.
(Woman 5) But spending money can’t be helped. The fun is in seeing all your relatives. You can’t see them if you’re afraid to spend money.


Still, Chuseok is the biggest traditional holiday for Koreans. This is perhaps the only time of year when people dare not skimp on money. Korea’s Chuseok is at its best when food is plentiful, people are generous, and affection is expressed freely. The entire nation seems to be scrambling to prepare for this year’s Chuseok weekend.

One supermarket outlet is receiving orders for Chuseok gifts. The store features mountains of fruit baskets, seafood sets, and processed food bundles. Those who place large orders receive big discounts, so the market’s customer representatives are busy answering a flood of phone calls. Since this year’s Chuseok arrives earlier than usual, and the summer heat still hasn’t dissipated, what market employees are most concerned about is keeping the produce, meat, and seafood fresh.

Because of the early arrival of Chuseok, shipping has started when the weather is still hot. In order to keep our food as fresh as possible, we add coolants and ice packs in the gift packages.

Delivery companies are also enjoying brisk business as shipping orders pour in.

I came to work at 6:30 in the morning. Many others arrived at six. We are dividing the packages by district and then divvying them up again for each deliveryman. Look how packages keep coming in. We have to keep categorizing them.

At just a little after 7 am, a delivery truck arrives at Anyang Post Office and unloads a pile of parcels to be delivered today. When the truck stops spilling out the day’s work, delivery people and all other postal workers jump in to sort the packages.

(Man 1) We have a lot of work because of the holiday. The amount is just staggering. They are all gift sets. We are extremely busy and work is too hard around holidays.
(Man 2) This is an emergency situation. This isn’t normal. We get more than ten times the normal volume.


Even though they had braced themselves against increased work days before Chuseok, moans and groans of exhaustion escape from their lips as they robotically sift through the parcels. How many places do they have to stop by today?



I have 100 packages today. I had only 83 yesterday. When will I be able to finish today’s work? It could take me about seven hours.

Holidays are the most hectic time for postal distribution centers. On average, they get two-and-a-half times the normal amount, putting all postal workers in emergency mode. Here’s office chief Seo Seung-beom서승범 of Anyang Post Office.

I come to work at six in the morning. It takes a long time to deliver all the parcels. I think it will take me about 9 or 10 hours to deliver all the stuff today. Even after I return to office after delivery, I have to sort through the letters, take care of registered mail, and return the misaddressed mail. Usually I work about 14 hours a day.

With the added weight of coolants and ice packs, their loads are even heavier than usual. But just thinking about how much love and care went into the gifts and the joy those presents will bring to their recipients makes all the hard work worthwhile.

(Man 1) It looks really fresh and I think I’ll enjoy it a lot. I feel great.
(Man) Dried pollock, dates, chestnuts, and dried persimmons sell the best. People usually buy things for memorial services. The market is bustling with holiday preparations.
(Woman) People serve butterfish, yellow corvina, croakers, and carp on Chuseok. They’re all excited and busy. They want to serve the best for the holiday.


Traditional markets are packed with shoppers looking for ingredients for ancestral memorial services. Koreans set the Chuseok table with grateful hearts for their ancestors and another year of bountiful harvests. So they have to get the freshest and most delicious ingredients to serve their forefathers, but the earliest Chuseok in 38 years has made newly harvested fruits scarce in the market, and the prices of the few available ones have gone through the roof.

(Woman 1) Prices have gone up a lot since last year. Fruits are more expensive this year, because this year’s Chuseok is early.
(Woman 2) Since all my relatives are coming, I’m going to make some beef rib stew and some side dishes. I’m going to keep it simple. I’m out to shop for some fruits, but they’re more expensive than I thought. The prices have gone up a lot more than before the rain. Vegetable prices are okay, but I have to buy some tangerines.
(Woman 3) Housewives are stunned, but prices have really gone up a lot. Things are harder for the poor. They are able to prepare only one dish in place of three.


But there’s good news for shoppers. Meat prices have stayed the same as last year, so the butcher shops are crowded with people looking for bargain.

I sell a lot of beef and pork ribs, as well as ground pork and beef. Ribs are for stew and sliced rib eye is for bulgogi for everyone to enjoy. Sales around holidays usually increases three times more than other times.

Rice treats called ddeok are also an indispensable part of the Chuseok offering. Ddeok makers are busy steaming up batches of Chuseok’s signature half-moon-shaped rice cake called songpyeon송편. These days songpyeon doesn’t come only in white, but in a variety of colors. Pink songpyeon is made with mountain raspberries, dark green ones with mugwort, and yellow ones with pumpkin. The generous ddeok store owner doubles the holiday cheer.

We sell all sorts of ddeok, like songpyeon and sticky rice cake. Many people just buy ddeok ahead of the holiday. If I’m too hassled and customers have to wait long for their ddeok, I can’t make pretty products. That’s why people buy in advance, when I can make proper-looking rice cakes. They keep the ddeok in the freezer and steam it again on Chuseok.

Some district offices sponsor farmers’ markets linking farmers and consumers directly so that city dwellers can buy quality goods at the best prices. Here’s Mr. Kim Heung-bae김흥배 of Yeongdeungpo District Office’s Regional Economy Division to tell us more.

Our farmers’ market is held on the last Tuesday of the month. We get fresh produce, dried fish, grains, and other agricultural products from seven farming communities, including our sister city of Yeonggwang영광. The August farmers’ market was arranged to cut the cost of Chuseok preparation. This market is significant because urban consumers get a chance to meet with farmers. It’s good for both producers and consumers.

(Man 1) They brought lots of dried chili peppers, new rice, and dried herbs. I wish more people would shop at the farmers’ market for Chuseok and make the market livelier.
(Woman 1) I brought black mushrooms, dates, and other stuff for the memorial service. Customer responses are good today. Many homemakers have come out, so I have been busy since morning. City people can get fresh produce directly from the rural areas, so I hope they will buy more of our stuff.
(Skip the last interview and go straight to sound effects)


Although home-made food offerings are the norm for Chuseok, it is not easy for today’s busy workers or older folks to do all the work. So there are people who make people’s lives easier by cooking the food instead. Here’s Mr. Jo Chang-yun조창윤, the owner of a holiday food service company.



Last year we received reservations for two weeks, but this year we were fully booked in just ten days. Food is delivered on the eve of Chuseok. Everything is prepared on the day before the delivery and shipped out at seven the next morning. Delivery is completed by that afternoon. This is by far the busiest time of the year for us.

The food production staff here is the first to notice the recent changes in holiday celebration. It has become simpler due to shrinking family size and the pursuit of an efficient lifestyle.

People used to place big orders, but nowadays they don’t order as much food as before, because families have grown smaller and people don’t want to have too many leftovers. We used to offer only one or two menu options, but now we have ten different options to meet smaller, more varied demands.

Koreans hearts will be filled with gratitude, good wishes, and hope on this holiday, just as the bright, silvery light of the full moon is certain to fill the night sky of Chuseok.

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