Chuseok

South Korea has three public holidays based on the lunar calendar, including the two most important, which get a three-day holiday each – Lunar New Year (설날 – Seollal), which falls late-January to mid-February, and Thanksgiving (추석 – Chuseok), which falls mid-September to early October. The third is Buddha’s birthday, which falls in May. The other holidays are based on the solar calendar. Seollal therefore falls between New Year’s Day (1 January) and Independence Day (1 March), usually slightly towards the latter, and Buddha’s birthday sometimes falls near (before, on or after) Children’s Day (5 May) and sometimes closer to, but never as late as, Memorial Day (6 June).

Chuseok sometimes falls near three other observances in early October – Armed Forces Day (not a holiday – 1 October), National Foundation Day (3 October) and Hangeul Day (9 October). In 2006, my first year in Korea, Chuseok fell on Friday 6 October. Therefore, Sunday 1st was Armed Forces Day (my diary records that I travelled with a colleague to a cultural festival in a nearby city), Monday 2nd was a working day, Tuesday 3rd was Foundation Day (I went hiking in the hills near the city), Wednesday 4th was a working day (class numbers were very low on the Mon and Wed), and Thursday 5th and Friday 6th were the first two days of Chuseok. On the Thursday and for most of the Friday, I explored the local area, but on the Friday evening I went with another colleague and a visiting friend to a city 75 km away, where the colleague owned a bar/restaurant, and it took 6 hours to travel that distance. Most of the time the traffic on the motorway was stationary, and we only made progress when we left the motorway for secondary roads. This was on the actual festival day, when people are meant to be celebrating with their familes, not on the road! We returned on the Sunday via secondary roads. Hangeul Day was on Monday 9th, but it was not a holiday then.

This year, Chuseok fell on Sunday 27 September. Previously, there was no extra holiday if one or two days of Chuseok fell on a weekend, but at some time the government allowed one extra day; this year Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th were holidays. Foundation Day falls on Saturday 3rd, which will have little practical effect for most people. Then Hangeul Day falls on Friday 9 October, so we will have three public holidays within two weeks.

Other years with awkward clashes of holidays are 2009, when Chuseok fell on Foundation Day, a Saturday that year (I don’t know what they did – that was my first year back in Australia) and 2025, when it will fall on Monday 6 October; assuming there are no changes by then, Fri 3rd will be Foundation Day, (Sun 5th,) Mon 6th and Tues 7th will be Chuseok and Thurs 9th will be Hangeul Day – four public holidays in the span of five weekdays, with a weekend in the middle.

For Chuseok 2007, my then girlfriend, now wife and I went on a package tour to Hong Kong, where the Mid-Autumn Festival was almost unnoticeable, and in 2008 we went to a gathering of her family, where, uncharacteristically, I took no photos, and I have no memory of the occasion other than one sentence in my diary. This year I went to the same gathering without my wife, who has returned to Australia. The family has gained spouses and young children since then. Without my wife being there, I was forced to speak much more Korean than I might otherwise – my Korean is better than some of their English, or at least I was prepared to speak it, in contrast to the two Korean classes I’ve been to, where I’ve spoken once.

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