Chuseok: millions of South Koreans head home to celebrate autumn with their loved ones

The event is South Korea’s most important festival: meeting with families to give thanks for the harvest and remember one’s ancestors. For families separated by war, it is a time of sadness and hope. “I pray that on this occasion everyone can rediscover the correct meaning of family, dialogue, mutual love, brotherhood,” said Archbishop You.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Millions of South Koreans have travelled to their hometowns to be with relatives to mark the arrival of autumn and give thanks for the annual harvest.

Chuseok or autumn eve is the country’s most important traditional celebration, which this year runs from 23 to 25 September.

For thousands of people, the occasion is also a sad reminder of another year spent away from family members in the North. However, this year there is hope that next year might be different.

For Mgr Lazarus You, archbishop of Daejon, "It is a time to thank God for the harvest and the abundance received, and to remember our ancestors. This is why families get together.”

“Every year, for those who have been separated for almost 70 years, this celebration is very difficult. But this year there is new hope, that next year the situation will be different, that there will be more contacts."

Chuseok, which is celebrated today, falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.

With the holiday, not only roads will be jammed. Heavy traffic blocked highways yesterday.

The authorities expect some 36.6 million South Koreans to head home to see loved ones, crowding roads but also railway stations and airports.

For South Koreans, the autumn festival would be unthinkable without songpyeon, the crescent moon-shaped rice cakes, a symbol of luck in Korean tradition.

What makes this sweet special is the flour used, which is made with freshly harvested rice. There are also significant regional variations in filling and size.

South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myung-gyon celebrated Chuseok today with a group of divided families, at Imjingak Park in Paju, south of the demilitarised zone that separates the two Koreas.

On this occasion, Cho reiterated his government’s intention to push for more meetings between separated families, and for South Koreans to visit their hometowns and the graves of their ancestors in the North.

Still, this year, separate families have had to settle for another gift, said Archbishop You. "Kim Jong-un gave president Moon Jae-in two tonnes of prised songyi mushrooms,” said the prelate.

“Moon divided them among the families who could not meet their loved ones, giving 500 grams to 4,000 families."

Finally, Mgr You said that, at a time when "Korean families are in difficulty, I pray that on this occasion everyone can rediscover the correct meaning of family, dialogue, mutual love, brotherhood.”