Holiday Syndrome?

Time flies and it’s already February in 2016! Of course we had new year holidays at the beginning of this year, January. However, we (Koreans) have another new year on this coming Monday (8th Feb 2016). From yesterday we’re having a new year holiday until mid of next week. Most people (non-Koreans) think this late new year is called ‘Chinese New Year’. It is so true but we say Korean new year or just Lunar new year. I love holiday (who doesn’t?) especially Korean holidays because I can meet my cousins, aunties, uncles etc. Sadly, my grandma had passed away two years ago so I can’t see her lovely smile any more but still I love to meet my relatives.

Whenever I say I love Korean holidays to my friends especially married ones, all of them told me, “if you are married, you couldn’t love Korean holidays any more, for sure!”. I know what they mean because this is very controversial topic for every Korean woman (especially married women). It is ‘Holiday Syndrome’!

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Ajummas in the supermarket to do grocery shopping for Korean New Year 2016

Traditionally, we have a memorial service for ancestors (e.g. great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents) on every Korean holiday such as Korean new year, Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving day) etc. On these holidays, we have to prepare food for ancestral rites table and at the same time for ourselves (family members). This is very good Korean tradition to admire our ancestors on every Korean holiday and relatives could be able to reunite together regularly through enjoying these Korean holidays. However, there is a big problem.

As I mentioned before in my blog post about Women in Korea (2) Before IMF on 11th Jan 2016, Korean society was severe patriarchal society from 1980s to 1990s. Women (mothers, wives, ajummas) had to sacrifice their lives to support husbands and children. This happened in the past and now the society has been changed a lot. Women are also working outside and they push themselves hardly to build their careers. They’re not staying at home to support their family by sacrificing their lives any more. I don’t mean that sacrificing their lives to support husbands and children like our mothers in the past were worthless. I mean the women in today have more opportunities to build their careers than 1980s so they can’t just be a stay-at-home mother rather they should work outside for their careers.

However, the problem is that the social structure and people’s mind haven’t changed a lot. It is like we can do real-time free video chatting through our smartphones  but people still use only voice calling with their high-tech smartphones. Society forces women to build their careers and get higher education but this society doesn’t allow women to be free from their family affairs that the society thinks ‘women’s full time job’. This can be a jump of logic but I think Korea is still very much patriarchal society even though there are so many opportunities for women, especially married women to work outside to build their careers compared with before in 1980s.

Holiday syndrome was also came from this patriarchal social structure, I think. All the daughters-in-law must go to their mothers-in-law’ houses to prepare food for their ancestors on every Korean holiday. And the problem is that many of husbands (or sons of mother-in-law, father-in-law or any ‘male’ human beings) don’t support, help or assist their wives at all. They think preparation of food for their ancestors are entirely ‘women’s duty’ for a very long time so these husbands never try to help their wives. Also mother-in-law don’t want their sons to work in the kitchen. This is also related to the Korean concept of predominance of man over woman. For this reason, there was a saying that ‘male must not come in the kitchen’. 


daughters in law with a mother in law prepare food
image from <>

I understand how Korean society had the feudalistic convention of regarding men as superior to women in the past. But the past is past and now is now. We have to change our wrong feudalistic thinking about men and women. Korean holidays are more than worth to enjoy because we can learn our histories, traditions and even ‘Jeong’ with our family and relatives. We are also allowed to think about our ancestors and our roots as well. If our mothers and daughter in law can’t enjoy these holidays, preparing food for other family members can’t be women’s duty any more. It become just women’s stressful work.


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The news reports about holiday syndrome of married women can be seen on TV or in the Internet every year. Our ajummas are suffering from Korean holiday syndrome for many years. The resolution is very simple. Holidays are for everyone. Please do prepare together and enjoy together.

‘Male must come in the kitchen. You’re more than welcome’


image from Pocket Monster, <>