Giving Thanks in More Than One Way

Ethan Vu, ENN Staff

As the autumn leaves fall and Halloween decorations are taken down, many seasonal foods such as turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing are starting to stock the shelves more often throughout local grocery stores and restaurants. Although these foods are well-known through American culture, other dishes such as songpyeon, youngyang chaltteok, and pickled cabbage seem to be overshadowed by the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. As the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities arise, other holidays such as Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and Chung Chiu (Chinese Thanksgiving) are also prevalent during this time.

Holidays such as Chuseok may be forgotten as many people are swept by the pumpkin scented candles, Thanksgiving sides, and sweet potato pie. Not many people know, but Chuseok is not only the day to be thankful for distant relatives visiting, but to also honor those who have passed away and a day of remembrance towards one’s ancestors. While others may not have observed this holiday in their daily lives, Jill Baker, Assistant Theater Director at Lake Ridge, has seen this holiday being observed first hand as she spent several of her teaching years in Korea herself.

“It’s like the harvest festival, but it’s also a celebration for the remembrance of their ancestors and moralizing your ancestors. They did some kind of alter in their home. It would usually be decorated with favorite items of the departed ancestors and if there was a specific parent or grandparent that they were honoring, they would have photos and those personal things with the items. There’s a component of leaving food items for ancestors and things they treasured. I know they always had these rice cakes and there’s special ones that are filled with honey and sesame seeds as well,” Baker said.

In addition to creating these alters for their ancestors, other traditions dedicated for those that have passed away include a family prayer or wearing a hanbok (Korean dress) in order to pay homage and show respect for their ancestors. This holiday is not only centered around remembering those departed, but also a time for distant relatives to gather and take part in various activities. According to Melissa Mohler, Spanish teacher, Chuseok is also similar to American Thanksgiving as cooking is used for the family gathering.

“They do a lot of things where they come together and make various foods, so we have turkey and stuffing or dressing but they make handmade dumplings called songpyoen. It’s a whole process where you have an assembly line. Someone has to make the dough, then someone has to make the filling, then someone fills it, and someone closes it. You have various colors and things that are associated with the time of year so you have pink, green, and white. It just brings everyone together so that you can commemorate and celebrate their equivalent of Thanksgiving,” Mohler stated.

Another holiday observed during this time would be Chung Chiu, known as Chinese Thanksgiving. During this time, families are also focused on having a set altar in order to remember past relatives but also celebrate the autumn harvest on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle through traditional dragon dances in pastry such as mooncakes. According to Kayla Nguyen, junior, her family celebration would often take place in a smaller setting as compared to Chuseok but the significance still remains the same.

“I would greet my elders before anything. Usually the Thanksgiving dinner would be at my grandparents’ house. We would always include noodles of some sort and eat chicken, pork, or duck instead of turkey. Since my family nearby is so small, it would usually be with my grandma, uncle, aunt, and cousins. I think it’s a great time to be able to have a feast but also, more to just enjoy the amazing privileges we have together as a family since we don’t see each other as much,” Nguyen said.

The thought of the unraveling presents and smells of Thanksgiving frequent, the lives of those who tend to forget those other holidays such as Chuseok and Chung Chiu that commemorate the lives of deceased relatives. Although each holiday has the same general meaning behind it, the dishes and customs still remain unique to each culture. People should try to keep in mind that there are other traditional foods and customs around this time of year, different from the ones people normally expect and consider trying a new method to giving thanks.