Korean Thanksgiving, or Chuseok, has traditionally been a time for families to gather and enjoy time together, share good food and celebrate the harvest season. Many Korean families visit their rural hometowns for ancestral rituals and to meet other family members for the holiday.
As many head for their hometowns for family reunions, the crowd-free cities enjoy their quietest time of the year. But, with the abundance of cultural activities and entertaining programs, they never get boring. Here's a guide to some of the big events for those planning to spend the upcoming four-day holiday, starting Saturday, in the city.
Basking in heritage
Palaces, historic sites and public museums in Seoul and other cities will be open throughout the Sept. 26-29 holiday, with a variety of special programs planned to entertain visitors.
Admission to Seoul's four royal palaces -- Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and Deoksugung Palace -- and Jongmyo Shrine will be free Sunday, the main day of the Chuseok holiday. Soothing traditional Korean gugak music will fill the autumn night at Deoksugung Palace, which will present gugak concerts from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. until Sunday. From Saturday to Sunday, it will hold fusion music concerts, blending gugak and contemporary popular music, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The National Folk Museum of Korea, also open throughout the holiday, presents the largest number of cultural events. The museum holds 44 craft-making classes, food-sharing events, folk plays and dance and musical performances. According to the museum, the events are child-friendly and attract on average about 20,000 visitors per day.
One of the popular events is a turtle-making session, which revives the old rural tradition of thanking and celebrating the plentiful harvest. Children will be making turtle costumes using traditional materials such as hay and recreate a scene from the old tradition of going door to door to ask for food, which is distributed to the underprivileged in the neighborhood. For more information, visit nfm.go.kr.
Thirteen other public museums nationwide also offer a variety of cultural activities throughout the holiday. On Sunday and Monday, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul presents a rare female sword dance performance, originating in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province. It is one of the rare types of female sword dance traditionally conducted during royal festivities.
Twelve other public museums in major cities -- Gyeongju, Gwangju, Jeonju, Buyeo, Gongju, Jinju, Cheongju, Daegu, Gimhae, Chuncheon, Naju and Jejudo -- will hold folk plays and craft-making sessions during the four-day holiday.
Arts and performances
The Sejong Center for the Performing Arts will host a cultural festival for two weeks, Sept. 26-Oct. 4, in celebration of the holidays. A number of free performances will be staged at the centre's outdoor plaza and lobby, including musicals and gugak crossover concerts.
The centre's outdoor stage will feature a 3-D rendition of Mozart's opera "Magic Flute," accompanied by fireworks, while Gwanghwamun Plaza will see b-boy performances, contemporary dance, bubble performances and other forms of street art. A play for children and a mime performance will be available at the centre's Chungmugong exhibition hall. All shows are free. For inquiries, call (02) 399-1114.
Festive fun at theme park
Families with children may want to head over to Everland, Korea's largest amusement park, where a folk festival will be taking place from Sept. 26-29.
Participants will be able to experience folk games, such as traditional board game yut nori and jegichagi, a hacky sack-like game that entails repeatedly kicking the "jegi," a shuttlecock-like object, to keep in airborne at the amusement park's Carnival Plaza.
Four masters of calligraphy will be drawing goblin amulets to chase away ill fortune and paper talismans for peace in the family and academic success. A 30 per cent discount will be available for families with grandparents, parents and children in attendance.
For expatriates unable to return home for the holidays, Everland and Caribbean Bay are offering a special discount from Sept. 25-Oct. 11. More information is available at www.everland.com.
Holiday nightlife at Hongdae
On Friday, Sept. 25, the eighth monthly Live Club Day event will be taking place in 11 live music clubs in Hongdae -- Gogos 2, Lezhin Comics V-Hall, Veloso, Evans Lounge, Club Evans, Club FF, Club Ta, Freebird, Prism Hall, KT&G Sangsangmadang and CJ Culture Foundation. One ticket, available at Interpark (ticket.interpark.com) for 20,000 won (S$24) and at the door for 25,000 won, will allow entry into all venues.
This month's event will feature bands such as Lazybone, Love X Stereo, LudiSTELO, Bye Bye Badman, Bluepaprika, JYP Entertainment's recently debuted band DAY6 and a collaboration between jazz band Yun Seok Cheol Trio and female solo artist Lim Kim.
On Sept. 28, the last day of the Chuseok holidays, an electronic dance music party will take place at the Lezhin Comics V-Hall at 8 p.m., featuring DJ Hanmin and hip-hop duo Crispi Crunch. An after-party will be held at the nearby club M2. Tickets are available through Interpark and priced at 30,000 won per person. For inquiries, call (02) 718-3990.
Getting pampered in the city
For those who were unable to book tickets to fly abroad, a relaxing vacation can be enjoyed right here in the city, as a number of hotels in Seoul are offering special Chuseok discounts.
At the Conrad Seoul, an overnight package including breakfast, a gift set of mugs from cookware brand Le Creuset, movie tickets and more is available from Sept. 20-30, starting from 188,600 won.
The Shilla Seoul is offering the "Moonlight Cinema" package during the holiday period, where visitors will be able to watch recently released movies including "The Intern" at the hotel's outdoor theatre. For inquiries, call (02) 2230-3310.
Available at the Marriott Executive Apartments in Yeouido will be a rejuvenating programme at the hotel's spa Soo. The package, offered at the discounted price of 120,000 won per person, includes a relaxing full-body treatment with collagen products. For inquiries, call (02) 2090-8060~1.