Discovering Chuseok

By Melanie Meyer

The first time I heard of Chuseok was during my research about Korea before opening Tiny Chef. All I knew was it was similar to America’s Thanksgiving and that it was one of the two major holidays in Korea, the other being the Korean Lunar New Year. What was prominent in my learning of Chuseok was the role of the family in the holiday. Chuseok is one of the few times during the entire year that the family will get together. Korea is an extremely busy and fast-paced culture and typically, once grown children leave home to begin their own lives it’s quite common for family members to go months, if not years without seeing one another. That is why both Chuseok and the Lunar New Year are so important. They are national holidays where everyone gets about 5 days off work to be with their families to eat, play games and give respect to their ancestors.

As I learned more about this holiday, it felt more and more foreign to me both literally and figuratively. Because I am no longer in contact with my adoptive family, I spend major American holidays working. When I read how family-oriented Chuseok was, I couldn’t relate. After opening my restaurant, Tiny Chef, people would wish me a Happy Chuseok. I would say thank you, as I was very grateful for the kindness in recognition, but the words still felt foreign to me; even as I heard myself saying “Happy Chuseok” back. It honestly made me feel empty and like I was an imposter with no family to fill that hollow void. I had no one to celebrate with and I also didn’t even know how to. I know that it was compared to Thanksgiving, but I doubted roast turkey and green bean casserole were on any of their family dinner tables and there was also no underlining genocide and colonization within its history.

And then I found my family.