Korean Thanksgiving

Informant: “Ok, so Korean Thanksgiving is like…almost the same thing. But it’s like a different kind of purpose? And our kind of goal is like to honor our ancestors. So we have a big Korean Thanksgiving feast, where there’s a lot of food and a lot of traditional Korean dishes. Like not just Korean barbeque or anything, but like…like rice cakes and like pretty things, and…and…”

Me: “Is it on the same day as American Thanksgiving?”

Informant: “No, it’s not. I actually don’t know the exact date cuz it kind of shifts every year.”

Me: “What month is it, do you know?”

Informant: “November. But it’s like, it’s probably more early November, late October-ish. And, um, so we have a feast. And if you’re in Korea, like, the custom would be to go visit the gravestones, or your family’s…cemetery. Like, where your…cuz in Korea you’re usually, your ancestors would kinda be buried in the same land, plot of land. So you kinda go and you kinda respect them, and sometimes you like put out food on the graves. And…”

Me: “What’s the purpose of putting the food on the graves?”

Informant: “It’s just so…so you’re remember the deceased ones kind of? And you’re like, cuz they’re not. Cuz in Korea your deceased ancestors aren’t really like dead. They’re actually supposed to be kinda like present, omnipresent in your household. So you’re kinda just like recognizing it. And you would give them like the best stuff. Like very like fragrant things, and sometimes there’d be incense and whatnot. Um, in America we don’t really get to go to the gravestones. But um, what is it? But we, ehem, meet up with like extended family, and…hahahaha hahaha…uhhh. It’s kinda like an American Thanksgiving, but it’s just different. Because you’re remembering different things than I think you….I dunno, like in American Thanksgiving.”

Korean Thanksgiving is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, as opposed to the solar calendar used in the US, which is why the date shifts. However, it usually occurs in November, roughly around the same time as American Thanksgiving. This is most likely because this time of year is harvest season, during which it is only natural to celebrate increased bounty. However, as my informant pointed out, the Korean version of this holiday celebrates something very different. Korean Thanksgiving celebrates (or rather, pays respect to) the deceased and ancestors. I think this is indicative of different cultural attitudes; whereas future-oriented America celebrates the new bounty of the year, past-oriented Korea pays respected to family members who are no longer there, but not entirely absent. Furthermore, in American Thanksgiving, the feast is eaten by all present as a way to celebrate the excess of a successful harvest. In the Korean version of the holiday, however, the choicest foods are set aside for ancestors. A large part of this holiday is placed-based, since the point of it is being able to visit the family plot. I found it interesting to hear how immigrant families have adapted the holiday to still keep the spirit of the holiday, even when they are not able to visit the graves in person.