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Pandemic deepens generational conflict surrounding Chuseok

(123rf)
(123rf)
As the prolonged pandemic continues into late September, Chuseok -- South Korea’s major traditional holiday -- has become a thorny issue for some families, igniting a generational conflict over whether to have family reunions during the holiday.

“I feel reluctant to have a family gathering at this pandemic time, and I am particularly worried about my 3-month-old baby,” one post in an online community reads. “What are you all going to do during Chuseok this year? I don’t want to hurt my in-laws’ feelings by not visiting them.”

Concerns about a potential new wave of infections are rising as a mass migration takes place during the Chuseok holidays. The government announced that Level 2 social distancing rules will remain in place across the nation, precluding indoor meetings involving 50 people or more or outdoor meetings with 100 people or more. The Chuseok holiday this year lasts for five days starting Wednesday.

Chuseok, also called “Hangawi,” is a harvest holiday often compared to the Thanksgiving holiday in the US and Canada. Families get together and conduct ancestral rites, visit their ancestors’ graves to cut weeds, and eat half-moon-shaped rice cakes called “songpyeon.”

This year, however, nearly 73 percent of respondents to a survey of 849 citizens in Seoul aged 18 or older said they had no plans to travel long distances during Chuseok, while 12.4 percent said they did have holiday travel plans. The survey was conducted by Seoul National University and the Seoul Institute.

Kim Jae-yeon, a 68-year-old Seoul resident, feels bitter about the pandemic depriving him of a chance to see family, including his grandchildren, when family bonds are already weakening. Nevertheless, he has decided to skip the family gathering this year to avoid risking infection.

“When I was young, we grew up in a big family, but the concept of a ‘big family’ seems to be fading in Korea,” Kim said. “It feels like we are living around a huge fence without caring about each other’s lives. I told my son, a lawyer, to spend time with his cousins from time to time.

“But he said he does not see the need to do so because they are all busy with their own lives. They barely meet once a year during the traditional holiday,” he said.

Some families have had serious family discussions over how to spend the holiday, marked by confrontation between younger people -- many of whom insist on spending the holiday individually -- and members of the older generation.

“We are all living in a world where we focus on a smartphone instead of talking with family. It seems the preciousness of family is getting forgotten these days,” a 64-year-old resident of Gyeonggi Province told The Korea Herald. “I think we have to catch up with each other at least once a year during the holiday.”

Experts say generational conflicts over family gatherings are unavoidable, especially during the pandemic, and the different generations in a family should realize that they have lived through different times.

“I suggest both sides yield a little bit,” said Lee Dong-gwi, a professor of psychology at Yonsei University. “For instance, if you don’t want to have a family reunion at your parents’ house during the pandemic, then suggest to your parents that you visit on a different day, after Chuseok, rather than simply saying you are not coming this year.

“Culture changes over time, including customs and trends for traditional holidays, which is a natural thing, so they don’t have to blame each other. It is important to acknowledge they can’t change each other and stay open to a different position,” he said.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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