July 21, 2024


By Park Gi-hyun

A few days ago, we celebrated the traditional holiday, Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving Day. Extended families visit their ancestral hometowns, spend time together and share a feast of traditional Korean cuisines.

To be honest, I had been reluctant to travel all the way to North Jeolla Province, where my in-laws live, during the holiday period. I have literally not been patient enough to endure the horrible traffic jams during the extended holiday period. The average driving time typically doubles during the festive season. According to the Korea Expressway Corp, traveling from Seoul to Busan, 395 kilometers away from the capital by road, was expected to take about eight hours, which usually only takes around four hours.

Unlike my parent’s home where a maximum of 10 people gather, at least two dozen of our family members assemble in my husband’s hometown in a hugely festive family reunion.

But it all stopped when the pandemic hit. Initially, not visiting an elderly relative’s house was primarily driven by the fear of spreading or being infected by the virus. I justified not heading to relative’s homes by saying I was uneasy with meeting groups of people. I stuck with this behavior for three years even after I became less fearful of COVID-19. As society puts the pandemic aside, I decided to ditch this behavior because I thought it was time to move on. So, this year, I headed back to visit family.

After many hours of driving, I finally reached Gochang, North Jeolla Province. Initially, I felt a little distant from relatives after not seeing them for such a long period. However, my awkwardness with them went away very quickly after we shared our recent life stories, offered condolences for disheartening news and celebrated some accomplishments.

In fact, cooking Korean cuisine, making a hundred “songpyeon,” a half-moon shaped rice cake for Chuseok, and doing the dishes for roughly two dozen people were indeed physically demanding. Yet, upon reflection, that time allowed me to reconnect with other family members as I spent a lot of time talking to them and empathizing with them.

I felt a sense of belonging after a long time. I learned how a family gettogethers work. They involve closeness and encourage attachment. Our stories are valued and respected. Yes, it has always been great to get together.

On the day we left, we took bags fully packed with locally harvested farm produce and my unskillfully made songpyeon on the journey home. It seemed my kids truly enjoyed the time spent with relatives. A positive family environment is vital to kids’ development, leading them to become happier people. In this regard, I was glad that I took them to the gathering.

I slpet in for two days after I returned home. My back still hurts due to long hours of cooking. However, I am pleased that we have resumed a family gatherings after the pandemic. I have forgotten the huge gratification that derives from family. Yes, I am now convinced of Mitch Albom’s remark: “Sticking with your family is what makes it a family.”


The writer ([email protected]) is a freelance English translator based in Korea.


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