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Chuseok tradition goes online

A family visits an ancestral grave ahead of the Chuseok holiday. (Yonhap)
A family visits an ancestral grave ahead of the Chuseok holiday. (Yonhap)
In South Korea, going to one’s hometown for big family gatherings and visiting ancestors’ graves together are considered normal practices during Chuseok -- one of the country’s biggest traditional holidays. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken away a lot of what was once considered normal. Chuseok traditions are no exception.

Park Choong-ho, who lives in Busan, used a live video chat program for the memorial ceremony of his late mother on Sept. 9 with his brother who lives in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. In an email interview with The Korea Herald, Park, 52, said he might do the same contactless ritual for this year’s Chuseok.

“I want to visit my ancestor’s grave during Chuseok. But if the coronavirus could spread again, I’m thinking about using live video chat for the memorial ritual just like how I did with the online ceremony for my mother,” said Park. “If we do it that way, my family’s representative member would visit the grave for the ritual and stream it live through AfreecaTV or YouTube.”

“If you have a tripod or stand for a cellphone, it is easy to communicate with each other and bow to the memorial service table. It is not much different from meeting in person,” he added.

When asked about what he liked about the online ritual, Park said there was less limit on time and space as he did not have to drive five hours to his brother’s house in Uijeongbu or vice versa. But Park pointed out that the online ritual required a strong internet connection to support livestreaming throughout the entire ceremony.

As visiting an ancestral grave is one of the most common traditions of Chuseok among Koreans, numerous memorial parks across the country have closed their gates during the three-day holiday to prevent the spread of the virus.

No visitors are allowed to enter 11 national cemeteries from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, according to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. The Incheon Metropolitan Government has also shut down its biggest memorial park, which usually sees an average of 3,000 visitors per day.

The “e-sky burial information system,” run by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, has set up a way to pay an online visit to memorial parks across the country with support from the Korea Funeral Culture and Policy Institute. Families can decorate the online graves with photo albums and share the online memorial services through various social media.

According to a survey of 1,500 people by e-commerce platform Tmon, 47 percent of respondents said they would spend Chuseok holidays with only immediate family members. Eighteen percent of them said they would not meet any family members at all. The biggest reason for reducing the number of meetings was to be careful concerning potential coronavirus transmission.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (