Korean gift-giving customs – Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving)

Like the American Thanksgiving, Chuseok (추석 – Korean Thanksgiving) is considered as an important festival by the Koreans and family members gather together to celebrate this festival.  Chuseok falls on August 15 of the lunar calendar and its purpose is to celebrate the harvest.  In South Korea, there is a 3-day national holiday for Chuseok and many people go back to their hometown to celebrate it with their family members.  People also buy gifts for their family members and close friends.

In my blog posts dated 10 December 2014 and 19 December 2014, I mentioned that Koreans may buy Spam luncheon meat gift sets or give cash/gift certificates as gifts for Chuseok.  In this post, I will talk about other types of gifts for Chuseok.

Nowadays, popular gift sets for Chuseok include assorted cuts of beef (as beef is expensive in South Korea), fruits (such as apples or pears), dried fish products (such as dried yellow corvine, tilefish or anchovies), hangwa (traditional Korean cookies), wine, cooking oil and daily products (such as shampoo, soap or toothpaste).  With the advance of technology, people may send mobile gift coupons through their mobile phones.  Recently, while the dried yellow corvine is still a common traditional Chuseok gift, lobster has also become a popular gift.  According to Emart, Korea’s biggest hypermarket chain, it is stocking around 2,000 gift sets of lobster, doubling its inventory from last Chuseok.  Each gift set contains 2.3-kilograms of Canadian lobsters and costs around USD100.

In fact, you do not need to worry about where to buy the Chuseok gifts in South Korea.  One month before Chuseok you can find a lot of gift sets on display in department stores, supermarkets, traditional markets and home shopping channels.

Are there any differences between the popular Chuseok gifts given by people now and in the past?  Over the years, some changes in Chuseok gift options are noted with the changes in economic and social conditions.  For example, in the 1960’s when South Korea was still a poor country, people exchanged daily necessities like sugar, soap or condiments as gifts. In the 1970’s when the economy was more developed, instant coffee sets, cosmetics, television sets and rice cookers emerged as gift options.  In the 1990’s, as the people became more health-conscious, health-related products like honey and ginseng became popular.  Although the gift options may change, it seems the fact that Koreans prefer practical gifts remains unchanged over time.

If you are invited by your Korean friends or colleagues to go to their homes to celebrate Chuseok with them, you may buy one gift for their whole family and there is no need to buy each family member a gift.  Although there are no hard-and-fast rules on what types of gifts are appropriate for which parties, if you would like to buy a gift for your boss or an older person, it is better to avoid buying personal hygiene products such as toothpaste gift sets as it would seem a bit awkward.  In such cases, you may consider buying honey or dried fish products.  If you go to the department stores, you may also seek advice from the shop assistants as to the appropriate types of gifts – they are very happy to help.

Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 4 February 2015.  Watch this space!



Lobster becoming increasingly popular Chuseok gift: Emart“, Arirang News, 2015-09-14

Sohn Jung-in, “History of Chuseok gifts“, Arirang News, 2014-09-06

Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving Day“, Korea Tourism Organization, 2014-08-18

Chuseok celebrations in today’s Korea“, Korea Tourism Organization, 2013-09-01

이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의,  《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 128-129쪽

George R. Hogan, “A guide to Chuseok gift giving“, The Korea Herald, 2010-03-30

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