Celebrating the Harvest Moon at the Chuseok Festival

Members of KASA (left to right) Sage Leonardo, Cassidy Chung, Sofia Rios and Shayla Caoilie, celebrated Korean culture wearing Hanboks. Photo Courtesy of Sofia Rios.

A crowd of approximately 20,000 gathered last Saturday at the Presidio Main Parade lawn for the annual Korean Chuseok Festival, brought to the Bay by Korean Center, Inc (KCI). 

Chuseok, a time to celebrate the fall harvest, is one of South Korea’s biggest holidays, but is celebrated by Koreans worldwide. The holiday spans three days during the rise of the full harvest moon, one of two moments in the year where day and night are of equal length. 

USF’s Korean American Student Association (KASA) attended the festival together for their first event of the semester.

“As a Korean American at USF, it can be a bit difficult to find other students who share my culture and experiences,” said Cassidy Chung, KASA secretary. “To me, Chuseok is a time for family to gather, and as my family assimilates more and more to Western culture, it is festivals like this one that reminds me where my roots lie.” 

Now in its fifth year, the 2023 Chuseok festival drew a crowd four times the size of its inaugural year, as per an estimate from KCI Executive Director Kiyoung Nam, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle

The “hanbok” photo booth had a constant snaking line as attendees waited to pose for a keepsake photo while wearing traditional Korean garments called hanbok. Hanbok for women consist of long sleeved jackets, “jeogori,” over a tied skirt called  “chima.” Hanbok for men are composed of the jeogori over loose pants called “baji.”

Craft offerings consisted of a calligraphy tent, a station to personalize chopsticks and a booth to make paper lotus lanterns. Attendees also took part in traditional Korean games like “Jegichagi,” where players repeatedly kick the “jegi” to keep it in the air.

At the Wishes to the Moon sculpture, visitors wrote personal desires on brightly colored pieces of paper, then tied them to the sculptures’ wooden clouds. As the day progressed, handwritten wishes such as “Health and love, love, love” and “A monster truck” fluttered in the breeze, waiting to be fulfilled by the Chuseok moon. 

Artist Lightning Yumeku said, “I designed the Wishes to the Moon sculpture because rituals matter to communicate our culture. My favorite part is helping people put their dreams and wishes on the sculpture. They are sharing their hearts and feelings with the world, if only for a minute.” 

More than 20 food tents and trucks presented their signature dishes like bulgogi from Mama Cho’s and spam fries from Seoul Bird Soju.

Joon Chun, co-creator of KPop Chicken, said, “Having culture-centered events is paramount for vendors like us to have a platform to share our culture through food. KPop Chicken is a business created by my cousin and I, and it is our Korean American experience on a plate.”

Attendees spread out on the grass with their food and drinks — soju and BB Tea’s crème brûlée boba milk tea were popular choices — to watch live performances. Rapper Son of Paper, the Santa Clara Korean Senior Chorus and K-pop dance group Eclipse all performed. Headline act Art Taekwondo performed a choreographed dance interspersed with board breaking acts.

Between sets, emcee Sangman Kim said, “What I love about this festival and the performances that are chosen is the fact that it’s not just K-pop or Korean barbecue or the things that people are used to thinking about in the context of Korean culture in America.” Kim, who is a USF biology professor, said, “I think it’s pretty important to show the fact that Korean culture is three dimensional. And if anything, I’m just really glad that everybody has the opportunity to come to this free event and see all of this.” 

Fellow emcee Tae Kong said, “We volunteer our time because this is very meaningful for us.  Chuseok is one of the biggest holidays in Korea, so this is the time for us to get together, have good food and celebrate our culture.” 

Chung, a junior politics major, added, “As a Korean American at USF, it can be a bit difficult to find other students who share my culture and experiences. I feel this is the crucial balance of tradition and modernization missing from many parts of American appreciation of Korean culture, and I was so proud to share my culture with my friends.”

Sofia Rios, a junior nursing student, accompanied Chung to the festival. “I thought it would be a fun thing to go to while experiencing some of her culture. It was a fun and interactive experience, and I feel like I was able to learn more about a culture. Plus, I got to wear a beautiful hanbok that made me feel like a princess, so win-win. I will totally go again next year.”

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