North Korea orders “simple” Chuseok celebrations

North Korean farmers working in North Hamgyong Province in early September. / Image: Daily NK

North Koreans are celebrating Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) modestly this year due to continued economic difficulties and an order by the authorities to “celebrate the holidays in a simple manner,” a Daily NK source reported on Monday.

“The fall in average family income has led to a fall in purchasing power, so people aren’t preparing as much for the Chuseok festivities,” a South Pyongan Province-based source said. “The sale of food to eat during Chuseok has fallen by at least half compared to last year.” 

According to the source, demand for beef, seafood, fruit, alcohol and other food placed on Chuseok tables, along with condiments and cooking necessities such as flour, has fallen drastically. Even in markets in Pyongsong, a major city just outside Pyongyang, demand for holiday foodstuffs has fallen significantly. 

“In the past, people would find any excuse to go to the markets to buy food to prepare for Chuseok celebrations, but that’s just not the case this year,” said another South Pyongan Province-based source. “Some people are just planning on putting some flowers or a bottle of alcohol on the table for ancestral rites.” 

The source also added that merchants at local markets are unhappy because they expected sales to increase as Chuseok approached. 

North Koreans ordered to “simplify” celebrations

The North Korean authorities have told the population to “simplify” their Chuseok celebrations, which is thought to have contributed to the fall in market sales. North Korean residents are already under pressure to cut back on celebrations due to continued international sanctions, and government officials are only adding to that pressure. 

“Even during the difficulties of the Arduous March in the 1990s, people would make Korean-style pancakes and half-moon rice cakes. Now those same people are planning on making their celebrations for Chuseok as simple as possible,” the source added. “They’re saying they’ll just put some flowers on the table and make a single bow in respect to their ancestors.” 

Chuseok is considered a major holiday in South Korea and often involves a major flow of people to visit family, but this is not the case in North Korea. The birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are considered the most important holidays in the country. 

Although Chuseok is a national holiday and North Koreans do not work on Chuseok day, they are required to make up for this lost day of work by working the following Sunday.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to