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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tradition, tradition!

Great, now "Fiddler on the Roof" is stuck in my head!

One of the things I like best about Korean culture is the way traditions have been so carefully preserved and maintained over the generations. This is evident in every aspect of Korean life, from the ingrained Confucian system of hierarchy to the way holidays are celebrated.

Next week is Chuseok, one of Korea's biggest holidays. I'm sad to have missed the chance to celebrate Chuseok during my year here -- it ended just before I arrived in September 2008 and will start just the day after I depart in October 2009. Bad timing on both ends!

Chuseok celebrates the autumn harvest and, much like Thanksgiving, brings families together to remember ancestors and share a big meal. During Culture class, we actually use Chuseok to explain the foreign concept of Thanksgiving.

Families will gather at ancestral gravesites to pay respect to the dead before eating special foods like songpyeon, a ricecake filled with soybeans and sesame seeds. If it's not Thanksgiving without turkey, it's not Chuseok without songpyeon.

While Americans and Canadians may be maintaining food and fellowship traditions with Thanksgiving, clothing-wise we can't come close to the Korean dress.


For special occasions, men and women still wear hanbok, the traditional costume. No one wears this every day, obviously, but on holidays and for weddings, most people pull out their hanbok and wear it proudly. It's especially adorable to see small children in miniature hanbok.

Frequently, I'll see older women walking down the street in hanbok and wonder where they are going to or coming from. It's so unique to see traditional dress like this still play a role in daily life.

The photo is from the shop next to my grocery store but stores selling hanbok are located around Seoul and I never failed to be awed by the stunning colors and patterns.

Incidentally, they're making quite the comeback fashion-wise. Modern brides have adopted the tradition of wearing white hanbok, providing the perfect blend between Eastern and Western cultures.