It has long been a tradition to celebrate the harvest season each year, but the time of such celebration varies from region to region. Hangawi of Korea and Zhong Qiu Jie of China are celebrated on the 15th of August in the lunar calendar, and Obon of Japan, on the 15th of August in the solar calendar.
Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. is on the fourth Thursday of November, and Toussaint of France, on November 1. Russia’s St. Dimitri’s Day is on the last Saturday before November 8. All these festivals gather people to celebrate the joy of harvesting, thank Mother Nature, and be with their loved ones. In Korea, we visit our elders and the people for whom we are thankful, to share encouraging messages with them and to serve our ancestors each holiday season. Hangawi is more special, however, as it serves fresh grains and fruits. In the past, people would make Sindoju and Songpyeon with fresh rice to serve their ancestors and thank them for the past year. Grave rituals also had a special meaning. One could not avoid criticism if he or she did not visit or take care of his or her ancestors’ graves at Hangawi.
In China, rituals used to be performed under the full moon on the night of Zhong Qiu Jie. Scented candles were lighted on tables, and various dishes, including fresh grains, were served. The signature dish were moon cakes, which were as round as the full moon. On the night of Zhong Qiu, people set the ritual table under the moonlight, served the ritual dishes, and cut the moon cake, which symbolizes unity, into pieces to share with their entire family. They also put messages of good luck in the moon cakes. In Japan, Obon is the day when the spirits of ancestors are greeted and served to pray for the wellbeing of the community. On this day, the people set Mukaebi (fire of greeting) to welcome the spirits of ancestors, and Okuribi (fire of farewell) to send them off. There are many grandscale festivals enjoyed by entire communities. Bongodori is a signature dance that originated from a tale in which the deceased, sent back from hell, danced with joy. Obon is similar to Zhong Qiu Jie in that they enjoy their festivals under a full moon, and Hangawi is similar to Obon in that we serve our ancestors with courtesy. However, Hangawi had a unique tradition: the custom of sharing, represented by the ‘Turtle Game.’ We carried on our backs sorghum leaves woven into the shape of a turtle shell, as we went around our village to gather fresh grains and share them with the poor. As it was a ‘community feast,’ we did not forget to take care of our neighbors.