Covid-19 Upends South Korea’s Thanksgiving, and Its Rituals
SEOUL, South Korea – Once a year for the past 30 years, Joo’s brothers have returned to their homeland from the South Korean capital for a vacation in Chuseok.
They drive from Seoul with their families, foreseeing a train that cuts through the middle, and trucks loaded with gifts. And they always reserve a spot for the great meal they eat with their parents to record Chuseok, a Korean dessert similar to Thanksgiving.
This year, the government has asked South Koreans to stay home during Chuseok, which ends this weekend, to prevent the spread of the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Many South Koreans, including Joo’s family, have reluctantly followed the rules, but their acceptance comes with a heartbeat: The holiday season now feels like it has lost its sacred rituals, and it is anxious and disturbed.
“Seeing my parents grow old and change often worries me, but seeing them and seeing them brings me back to my senses,” said Joo Jae-wook, 57, a salesman and the eldest of four siblings, one of whom still lives near home. “But this year I can’t.”
Chuseok falls the full moon nearest to the fall of the equinox, called the harvest month. It is also popular in North Korea, although there is no time for gratitude as a popular holiday destination in the South.
The holidays are closely linked to South Korea’s agricultural history and ancestral worship. Many families return to their hometowns – often a husband or father, despite the cultural background – visiting the cemetery and arranging the tombs of their parents. They also put fruit on picnic bags as traditional gifts, exchanging gifts and gathering to make music, a special rice cake that symbolizes family ties.
“For people my age, Chuseok means family and comfort,” Joo said. “We also develop a sense of belonging and belonging together and interacting with the brothers and sisters.”
During the Chuseok era, South Korean roads and public transportation are disrupted to accommodate all the people rushing to return to their cities. Train tickets are sold in advance.
But this year, trains are leaving the barracks empty due to disruptions. Travelers buy seats at the last minute easily.
South Korea says 415 people have died and more than 23,000 coronavirus since the outbreak began, including more than 500 people in the new week. The country’s response has been widely praised as an example, but a recent outbreak in Seoul has tested the government’s approach to cracking down on social unrest and is pursuing more and more efforts to stem the tide of economic unrest.
On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in told the country that South Koreans are seeing Chuseok at a “critical time,” and their commitment will be rewarded. “The government will definitely bring back people who have endured hardships in the fight against HIV / AIDS and economic protection,” he said.
This did not really comfort Choi Jee-woong, an independent MC in Gangnam, Seoul.
Choi, 39, and his parents usually live in Chuseok in South Jeolla County, where their father grew up. But she is skipping a trip this year because her mother is not feeling well, she said, and she is planning to go on holiday to watch Netflix.
“We feel like a ruin these days,” Choi said, sitting on a bench outside the cafe. “I am a very active and outgoing person, but some obstacles have arisen among us.”
Mr Joo, a retailer, said he and his wife often live in Chuseok walking between the southern city of Gwangju, where his parents live, and his parents’ house in Sunchang County.
Two weeks ago, her parents advised her not to come this year, based on government advice.
He agreed, but it did not alleviate his temporary anxieties and frustrations.
“When there is a timeline, people have hope,” says Joo, who lives in a remote area. “But I’m scared because we don’t know if this will end.”
Joo said the family would miss the stories of their fathers telling them about their upbringing in the Japanese occupation in the northeastern part of China known as Manchuria, and the hardships of life in South Korea in the late 1950’s.
The couple’s daughter, Joo Hyena, 26, said many young people in South Korea felt that the plague had left them “thrown away and thrown to the ground.”
“For people who are looking for a job or who have just been hired for the first time, getting a job is not what they want or think,” says Ms Joo, who recently quit her job at a global beauty company.
As for Chuseok, he said, young people often find it difficult because relatives often ask questions about their jobs and relationships.
But Ms. Joo added that the holiday has a “light energy” that allows people to live together. One of his best memories, he said, was a ride in the rice and pepper fields in early autumn, on the back of a motorcycle for his late grandmother.
“It makes us feel so generous and generous, putting so much time and effort into preparing food and gifts for each other, as some would feel at Christmas,” Ms. Joo said of Chuseok’s past celebrations. “But this year things have split, and the roads look exciting.”
Jun Michael Park quotes from Seoul and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.