Chuseok is Korea’s autumnal holiday, a time for sharing the year’s harvest together with family. It is the perfect time to offer gifts to family elders, business partners and anyone you’d like to be on extra good terms with -- or just to prove you’re now legitimately in the adulting phase of life.
Who doesn’t love cash? Cash gifts are arguably the most preferred way of showing a person that you genuinely care in South Korea. Because by giving them the money, you give them the freedom to do whatever they want with it.
2. Red ginseng
A red ginseng store promotes Chuseok gift sets (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Red ginseng is the most commonly sought after health food product here. Even better than ginseng -- which can upset the systems of people who naturally have a lot of heat in them -- red ginseng is believed to fortify a person’s immune system and overall health. Other health care products such as luteins for eyes, probiotics for guts and multivitamins are also very in, as attention to health and hygiene has catapulted since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Hanu (Hyundai Department Store)
The vegetarian population has grown in Korea as conscientious eating habits, animal rights awareness and environmental activism come to the fore. But among the older generation, there still is an exuberance of appreciation when they are given premium “hanu” beef. Especially on a festive day, putting hanu on the table shows a family’s financial status. Bring hanu, and you will surely be welcomed.
A Hangwa set (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Colorful honeyed snacks are representative traditional treats that often only become popular during the national holidays. They’re only available at department stores for the seasonal occasion, so with a “hangwa” gift set you cannot go amiss. Throw in “gotgam” and “songpyeon” too. Gotgam are chewy dried persimmons that are tough on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. Songpyeon are half-moon-shaped rice cakes with red bean paste filling. Both gotgam and songpyeon are eaten during Chuseok -- and while in the past families made their own, it’s more common now to buy professionally made goods.
Liquor stand (Lim Jeong-yeo/ The Korea Herald)
With a holiday table strewn with food and snacks comes the jolly rowdy crowd and their liquor. Bring the parents a fresh bottle of cognac or whiskey or wine and see the joyous smiles spread across their faces. Why not go funky with “jeontongju” -- locally fermented drinks?
Gift sets comprising of spam and cooking oil (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Perhaps a downgrade from hanu, but spam is a steady seller among holiday gifts. Hanu may be special, but spam is essential. Spam will last forever. It will be there in the cupboard when you need it to help you through low times. A spam gift set holds stacks of cans, giving an abundant impression. Sometimes they are arranged together with cooking oils and other everyday condiments in flat, large rectangular boxes in several sizes and prices. Chuseok is a time when the cook of the house requires more cooking ingredients than ever to feed the gathered family. With one box of this, there will be enough inventory to last the family through the holidays.
7. Seasonal fruits
Shine Muskats and apple mangoes rise in popularity for Chuseok 2020 (Galleria Department Store)
Fall is the time of apples, pears and grapes. “Hongok,” meaning red jade, is a type of vivid crimson apple sold during the Chuseok season. Then there are the round, full-moon-shaped Korean pears that are sweet and hydrating. In the grape category, the conventional choice of giant deep-purple grapes called “geobong” is giving way to bright green Shine Muscats this year, with more people delighting over the exotic variety.
8. Daily necessities
Complete sets of bathroom essentials (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Shampoos, toothpastes and soaps are another category of goods that never disappoint during the holiday times. Every day is made possible by seemingly insignificant little things that we often take for granted. Who gives a thought to toothpaste when it’s there? But once we run out, we become irritable for lack of preparedness. Hence, a holiday gift in advance helps the family maintain a graceful lifestyle without being caught off guard.
9. Electronic massage devices
Living away from parents, now grown-up offspring can try to fill up the empty nest with massage gear to replace their filial labor. There are the usual full-size electronic lounge chairs that now have subscription models for affordable monthly maintenance fees, and then there are the newly popular massage guns that work on strained muscles like rubber-padded drills.
Face masks have gained status in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. An emerging trend shows companies marketing disposable masks, hand sanitizers and noncontact thermometers as Chuseok gifts. This is especially garnering consumer interest amid concerns that nationwide holiday migrations might cause spikes in the COVID-19 case numbers. In these unprecedented times, giving masks and sanitizers is a thoughtful gesture.
By Lim Jeong-yeo (email@example.com