Here's the question:
Since so many people live in Seoul now, what's going to happen during Chusok and Chinese New Years in the future? No more traffic jams?
I can't tell you how many times I've thought about this. In fact, I often take it a step further and wonder if some of the traditions that make Chuseok and Seollal so fun and unique will go the wayside once the 70+ generation dies off, presumably changing the "hometown" from a provincial town/village to Seoul or another big city.
This recent Seollal doesn't appear to have been much different from the others before it. Tons of people headed to their grandparents/parents or in-laws for the holidays just like they always have. The Korea Times reported that 3.6 million people were heading out of Seoul for the holiday and over 22 million people were going to be moving around the country. That's a pretty big number. The population of South Korea is hovering around 50 million these days, so we're looking at nearly half of the population still heading somewhere for the holidays. For now, it seems that the holiday and the adherence to the traditions seem safe.
However, as Seoul's population continues to increase and more and more people are considering Seoul as their official "hometown", it'll certainly be interesting to see how that pans out in the future. I know from personal experience that many Seoulites are opting to either delay the family visit and take a much needed vacation or are skipping the holiday altogether. They're probably in the minority though.
I guess I could speculate that younger Koreans might not be as "into" traditional holidays as they used to be and maybe that would be true, but I think that there are other factors working against the holidays. The biggest obstacle --to me-- seems to be that the majority of Koreans are not buried anymore; they're cremated. And not only are 60% of Koreans cremated, but 9 out of 10 Korean prefer cremation to burial.
That's fine except that one of the crucial ceremonies of both holidays is 절 or the bowing to elders/ancestors. Most Koreans have a tomb they visit where they offer some form of alcohol, fish or fruit before they bow and pay respects to their ancestors. That ancestor is typically a parent, grandparent or maybe even a great-grandparent. One would think that this trend would continue for some time since Korea is such a rapidly ag
eing society, but the issue is not a shortage of old people, it's a shortage of tombs and space.
That shortage is the crux of my argument. As each generation trucks on, the ancestral tombs will fade further into the grey. Honestly (and you might not agree), no one wants to visit the tomb of their great-grandmother every year. I've seen my great-grandmother's grave in Indiana twice and that's enough for now. Maybe some Koreans will drop-in every five years or so if they're in the area, but the annual traffic-fighting voyage to a town that isn't your "hometown" anymore just doesn't sound realistic to me.
Just because the tomb trips might become less common or Seoul is their official "hometown", doesn't mean they can't partake in the traditions though. As with everything, traditions usually take a hit as times passes. That's normal. Still, Koreans can still bow and the family can still gather for the holiday. It might just mean a trip from Gangnam to Nowon, rather than Seoul to Daegu and if that's the case --well-- I guess there will be more traffic in Seoul, but that's nothing new.