Chuseok in Shambles

As South Korea continues to display signs of Westernization at work, traditional values inherent to the nation seem to dwindle in their importance every year. Such a trend is evident when it comes to Chuseok, one of Korea’s most celebrated holidays. It may only be a matter of time before “Korean Thanksgiving” simply becomes no more solemn than any other dinner with one’s family. It is up to each Korean, regardless of the generation he or she is in, to decide whether this change is for the better or the worse.

To provide the necessary context for this holiday that defines Korean forms and customs, Chuseok is a day dedicated to worshipping one’s ancestors; numerous families dress in traditional Korean “hanbok” and prepare various, specific dishes to place on a vast table. Chopsticks and spoons are even placed directly on top of the food for the purpose of allowing the ancestors to “enjoy the feast.” Having to follow a number of complicated and seemingly purposeless rules, including the requirement of one to bow and rotate a cup around incense sticks 2.5 times, Koreans in recent years are finding ways to make such stringent guidelines less strict.

According to a poll conducted by the Korea Rural Economic Institute a few days before this year’s Chuseok, 35.1 percent of Koreans said their families will strictly adhere to traditional rules, compared to 47.6 percent last year. Additionally, another 35 percent said they will simplify the offering table by including only basic items, while 19.3 percent said they plan to fill it with food their family enjoys eating, straying from the dishes all households normally prepare.

Although there may not be any tangible effects resulting from such an observed change, this does not mean we should allow tradition to slip away from us simply due to the tediousness of this once-a-year activity. In other words, it may be time for the federal government to make a statement. Although the government, at least in South Korea, does not have the authority to dictate its citizens’ beliefs, nor the ability to force individuals to tenaciously adhere to such customs. However, while it is one thing to guarantee freedom and individual rights for all men and women in South Korea, it is another thing to neglect the preservation of the nation’s history.

In whatever fashion the government deems necessary, it should address this rise of Western influence within the nation not necessarily due to its deleterious effects; it simply tips the scale of how much value we place on our present culture as opposed to American culture.


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