Korean Thanksgiving, called Chuseok, is one of the most family-oriented holidays in the Korean calendar. In a country of 50-million people, crowded into a peninsula roughly the size of New Jersey, the normal traffic congestion in South Korea becomes a nightmare for the masses trying only to visit their families for a week of celebration.
The Korea Expressway Corporation estimates 318,000 cars left Seoul over the weekend, while an estimated 49.5 million people will travel to and from their hometowns during the holiday. 100,000 people left the country via Incheon International Airport over the weekend, with many younger citizens using the holiday not to visit family, but to enjoy some vacation time.
In a country where suicide is skyrocketing amongst younger professionals, traditional familial pressures from centuries of Confucian society don’t help the matter. Many singles in their 20’s and 30’s are eschewing the traditional family visit for Chuseok, and amongst college students the drop is even more apparent. According to the top universities of the country, fewer than half the numbers of students are purchasing bus tickets to their hometowns than did last year.
But Chuseok is not being ignored in America either, at least not by Koreans. In an effort to get New York City to recognize Chuseok, the Korean American Teachers Association of New York are encouraging their students to stay home from school and appreciate their families. Students should not get in trouble for skipping school, however, as the school board offers students time off from school for cultural or religious holidays.
The subject of families also arose from South Korea, as President Lee Myung-Bak gave a regular radio address to citizens.
“Those who have hometowns in the northern side will have deeper thought of hometowns and families on a festive day. I hope (people in the two Koreas) will celebrate Chuseok together some day. The government is making efforts to make the reunion of separated families become a regular event.”
Talks are continuing between North and South Korea regarding resumption of familial reunions, despite the tensions between the two nations. But as Koreans around the world sit down to their harvest festival and give thanks, all should remember their brethren north of the 38th parallel. Imprisoned in the oppressive land, North Koreans are starving and destitute, huddled around candlelight to celebrate their own family ties.
- Koreans on move for Chuseok holiday(Korea Herald)
- Korean teachers in US campaign for Chuseok(Korea Times)
- Singles loathe being hassled during holidays(Korea Times)
- For youngsters, Chuseok is more than family affairs(Korea Times)
- Lee vows efforts for regular inter-Korean family reunions(Yonhap news)