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SEOUL – U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James D. Thurman is urging servicemembers to keep safety in mind as millions of Koreans hit the highways in the next few days to travel home as part of Chuseok – South Korea’s annual harvest festival.

The country’s second-biggest holiday falls on Monday this year, but will be celebrated Sunday-Tuesday, traditionally turning Seoul into a relative ghost town as an estimated 75 percent of South Koreans return to their hometowns.

Garrisons across South Korea are handling the holiday in a variety of ways. For example, at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, from Friday at 5 p.m. through Wednesday at 6 a.m. off-post road conditions will be considered “red.” That means only vehicle movement for protection of life and property, emergency maintenance or road repair will be authorized, according to garrison spokesman Steven Hoover. Those restrictions will not apply to travel between Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base.

U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense civilians in South Korea will be off work on Monday because of the holiday.

Thurman suggested this is a good time for Americans living in South Korea to learn more about the customs and history behind such an important part of Korean culture.

“I encourage the entire USFK community to use this time to learn more about our gracious Korean hosts,” he said in a holiday message.

The holiday is believed to have started between 600 and 900 A.D. and is comparable to Thanksgiving in the United States because of its focus on family and food. Families celebrate Chuseok by preparing a ceremonial table of food for their ancestors and visiting their graves. They traditionally eat songpyeon, a half-moon-shaped rice cake filled with sesame seeds or chestnut paste, and drink rice wines.

From staff reports

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