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[Opinion] Family Byul-gok: Songs of the New Year

Posted February. 10, 2005 22:45,   


The strength of holidays lies in that they can bring together families and relatives scattered about and allows individuals to realize that they are all parts of families. While finding time to come to your hometown to take part in ancestor memorial services and to meet your cousins and relatives, you are awakened to the fact, “I am not alone in this world and should think twice before I act.” Children who appear to be preoccupied with collecting money for a bowing ceremony also unknowingly come to better understand their roots. By all measures, the labor and money are well worth it during the New Year holidays.

▷ In ordinary times, people tend to envy simple families or those who live alone. Yet in times of holidays, large families become an object of envy. Even if you do not eat, you may feel full at the sight of your family members crowding together at home and guests coming and going to visit you all throughout the day. Seeing pupils visiting their old teachers to bow on New Year’s Day is also a virtuous sight rarely seen in other countries. Some pupils continue to visit a late teacher’s wife on every New Year’s Day even 10 years after his death to bow before his picture.

▷ On the morning of February 9, MBC TV aired a specially prepared program for the New Year holiday entitled, “Our New Year Holiday- Our Families are the Best,” which touched the hearts of many people. Among the most heart-tugging stories in the program were those of aged parents who stubbornly adhere to an extended family system, yet equipped their house with underground karaoke facilities for their family members, a middle-aged couple who take extra care of their health and appearance so that the child they gave birth to at a late age can grow without any trouble in his life, and an ordinary citizen who regards her adopted child as a true blessing in her life.

▷ In response to Chinese songs, Koreans have called their unique songs “Byul-gok,” meaning “special tunes,” which date back to the Korean Dynasty. In this regard, New Year’s Day is, for Koreans, a day when they sing “Family Byul-gok.” Thanks to the touching emotions they feel while visiting their hometowns and relatives, many Koreans recharge during the holidays so that they can live energetically for the remainder of the year. However, an estimated 47.1 percent of Korean families are presently traditional families comprised of parents and children. Families of couples with no children amount to as many as 13.8 percent, and single families make up 17 percent. Can New Year’s Day maintain its value and importance of families for a time to come? After all, it is up to women who do most of the labor during the holidays.

Oh Myung-cheol, Editorial Writer, oscar@donga.com