Enjoying the holidays ― against all oddsThe holidays are just around the corner ― the time of year when the family shows up at your door. Including your notorious uncle.
To some, Chuseok is a joyous occasion, but not everyone is happy to see their relatives.
For women, the horror can entail an overload of kitchen work. For men and women alike, it can mean wailing cousins, or some drunken in-law singing at the top of his lungs.
Bickering between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law this time of year can send the man of the house looking for a hole to hide in. Some men actually lose hair, or weight, during Chuseok because of family-related stress.
Can there be such a thing as a joyful Chuseok?
Wanting to find out, the JoongAng Ilbo asked experts such as Kang Hak-joong, head of the Korea Family Management Research Institute; Lee Eui-soo, secretary general at the Hi Family Research Institute of Love; Kim Shin-gu, a researcher at the Family Happiness School, and Park Ji-seng, who runs a neuropsychiatry ward in Seoul.
It has been a Chuseok tradition for the women in the household to prepare all the food, while men usually lounge around the living room watching television. But women have started to ask, “Why are we the ones doing all the work?”
Women complain every year that their husbands, who normally are willing to lend a hand at home, become idle during Chuseok, boldly issuing orders for food and beverages.
This issue has always been one to start a family feud.
To ease this problem, experts say families should either scale down the amount of food they’re preparing or simply order it from a catering company.
Catering services specializing in holiday food have grown in number recently, and can be a major help in easing the load for the women, our experts noted.
Lee Heung-hwa, a 59-year-old housewife, says cutting down on food during major holidays brings happiness to the entire family.
She adds that she makes her own sons help out with Chuseok preparations at their in-laws’ homes, which defuses the potential for a clash between the genders.
A women’s civic group recently went so far as to launch a campaign to get husbands to sign a pledge to help wash dishes during the holidays.
Experts note, however, that the patriarchal holiday traditions are not going to change in a day or two.
So women should have patience, and ease the men of the house into their new responsibilities.
So who pays for these catering companies ― and for all the other Chuseok preparations? What about the presents given among friends and families?
And what if the whole family takes a trip together, or goes out to a restaurant? Who foots the bill?
Experts say the best way is to split the cost according to income status.
The brother who makes more money should help out the other brothers. As for presents, offspring shouldn’t just hand cash to their aging parents. Cash should only be given to the parents as an allowance, not as a present.
Since the host’s financial burden will be quite large, it would be nice if a relative or a family member brought meat or fruit as a present. Also, giving cash might not be a bad idea in this case.
Choi Mee-gyeong, 36, came up with a solution for her family. She established a family account to which her siblings would contribute 50,000 won ($43) every month. The money is spent on special occasions, such as parents’ birthdays or national holidays such as Chuseok.
When the family finally gathers around for Chuseok, sometimes there’s unforeseen competition.
During conversation at the breakfast table, someone will casually bring up her child’s prizewinning performance at school. Someone else will mention a new promotion.
For those who are single when their friends are on their second or third child, or for someone who’s recently been divorced, it’s not necessarily pleasant when an uncle or an aunt comes over and asks whether they’re dating anyone. And then there’s the relative who just comes out and says, “You’re not looking too good.”
Experts say this kind of tension can be easily avoided with a little bit of courtesy and some positive greetings. And sometimes, a little bit of preparation can smooth over a lot of awkwardness.
Gweon Hee-eun, 29, holds a Chuseok event called “rolling note.” Names of family members are written on pieces of paper and passed around, giving the other relatives a chance to write down the things they wish they could say to them but can’t.
Last year, Ms. Gweon mustered her courage and wrote to her father-in-law that the women in the house couldn’t enjoy the holidays because there was too much work. Ms. Gweon added that she wished the men in the family, who had vowed to be by their wives’ sides in good times and bad, would live up to their word.
That year, the men started helping out around the house.
by Lee jie-young