Monday, September 15, 2014

A feast

As I've always said, one of the hardest things for me to give up coming on a mission was holidays.  Christmas, Fourth of July, St Patricks Day, you name it - are days that simply don't exist here.  For the first whole year, it was sad to see those days come and go on the calendar without even thinking or doing anything about it.  I mean, I always did my best to celebrate them still, but when you're the only person at the party,well.... there's kind of no party.  However, I little by little got over my original mindset (in all things American, not just holidays) and my interests and desires transitioned from American holidays and traditions to Korean ones.  For the last month or so, I've been getting more and more excited as the anticipation built up and finally, this last week, it was Choosuk, and this time, I wasn't the only one at the party.

What is Choosuk?  Well Koreans celebrate 2 major holidays each year:  Solar, and Choosuk.  Solar is the Lunar New Year and was in February this last year.  If you remember, I wrote you all about it. Choosuk comes a few months down the road and is always celebrated at the end of the harvest.  It's a three day long holiday in which they all travel back to their hometown with their families, give respect to their ancestors at their tombs with a special ceremony called Jehsah, and then eat traditional Choosuk food.  And when I say eat, I mean EAT.  There is a TON of food!  Basically, Thanksgiving to Americans is what Choosuk is to them.

It's a big deal, and because the one Korean sister missionary in my district wouldn't be able to be with her family for it and instead would be surrounded with Americans that don't understand about her holiday, I wanted to make it the best Choosuk for her as possible.   It actually lined up perfectly and was going to be on a P-day, so we had all day to spend it however we wanted.  Two weeks before the holiday, she and I made a massive shopping list of required food and supplies.  She would do all the shopping, we would all as a district pay for the food, and then when Choosuk came, we would gather together at the church and make ourselves a Choosuk feast, do Jehsah, and play traditional Korean games.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  The very next day, she called me.

 "So...... I went shopping"  she said in Korean.  I asked her what she bought and she listed off a few foods that were on the list.

"That's great!  It'll be delicious!"  I exclaimed.  "How much was it?"

(silence... no response...)

"Sister Park.... how much was the food...."  I jokingly asked

"$100- bye!"

And she hung up the phone.   Hahaha, what!?  I called her back and after she started apologizing, I told her it was totally fine.  This was her holiday, she could spend as much money on it as she wanted - heck, I'd pay for it all if I needed to.  As the days to Choosuk began to count down, the excitement really did start to build.  The stores were packed with shoppers frantic for food, children and family were wearing traditional Korean clothes, and it really felt like a holiday.  Like I'm not kidding, the holiday spirit was there - and there was not a single jingle bell or stocking in sight.  I mentioned something about the holiday feeling to Elder Godfrey and he replied back by saying "what are you talking about?"

"Don't you feel the holiday spirit?  The Choosuk excitement?  I feel like I won't be able to sleep all night!"  I beamed.

"ummmmmmm, you're too Korean, man"

I took it as a compliment.    Finally, the day of anticipation came and we all went to the church.  The next door district joined us as well and the Korean missionaries from the other district, Sister Park, Elder Kim, and Sister Park from my district got to skype their families (they don't do it on Christmas like I do, of course).  Once skype was over, the three Koreans and I dove ourselves into the kitchen and the preparation began.  We cooked, and we cooked, and we cooked, and we cooked.  And we partied, of course, while we did so.  It was tons of fun!  Learning how to make all of those Korean foods and just being with my three Asian buddies, haha.  No other American helped make the food, they all just sort of hung out in other rooms in the church and played games.  But like I promised Sister Park weeks before, this was their holiday, and I wanted to help them out the best I could.  I guess Elder Godfrey was right... haha, I've become Korean.

Finally, after hours of cooking, it was dinner time and we set the table.  My goodness, was it delicious or what!  And while we all just sat and talked, eating our food, the best feeling of "holiday"  was in the air.  I'm not sure if the other Americans could feel it, but for sure the three Koreans and I did.  I just thought to myself how funny the whole thing was.  Why do I love holidays so much?  Why do I love Christmas and the feeling that the season brings?  Really, it's because of the feeling of love, and happiness, and togetherness, and joy, and just overall all of the things that come when you are with family.  It dawned on me that Korea has really started to become my home, the Koreans have really become my friends, and other missionaries like Sister Park and Elder Kim have really become my family.  Now of course, I still have a family back at home in America, but Korea and the people here have joined the ranks.  And that's why it truly was a holiday to me.

So Choosuk was a success and the happiness that it brought continued throughout the week.  Many other amazing things happened, like a personal tour of a beautiful Buddhist temple by a monk, a ping pong competition with some church members, a picnic in SeJong with all of the members and our investigators at the lake, and our investigator FINALLY accepting to be baptized for sure.  Now it's just a matter of when, again.  But it's okay, we're happy about it.  Korea is amazing, things couldn't be better.

Elder Graf

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