SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Korea Bizwire) – On February 18, the last day of the four-day Lunar Holiday period, 47-year old housewife Lee is scrolling down the screen of her smartphone with her right hand, intently peering into the device, while she gently massages her back with her left.
Lee, who revealed that she cannot tend to household chores due to the severe pain in her back, is searching online for a hospital specializing in back treatment.
“On the day of the Lunar New Year, I spent a long time not moving while preparing the day’s ceremonial food, which is what I suspect to be the cause of my back pain. Even if I move an inch, I get spasms of pain,” Lee sighed.
South Koreans in Lee’s position self-diagnose themselves as suffering from “holiday syndrome”, the disagreeable aftereffects of a lengthy national holiday period.
Despite the irony that a four-day weekend may necessitate appointments with the doctor, holiday syndrome is not a medically classified condition that is nonetheless universally recognized and shared by many.
Of course, feeling gloomy at the prospect of returning to the daily grind is a sentiment not unique to South Koreans, but what may be unique is the need to search out what locals commonly refer to as “healing” in the aftermath of the holidays.
Caused by a toxic cocktail of overwork, stress and tense family relations with a dash of South Korea’s notoriously conservative culture that places heavy expectations of responsibility and knowledge of one’s role in social hierarchies, survivors of the holiday slog are often afflicted with headaches, dizziness, digestive problems, exhaustion and more.
Interminable stretches of driving to visit extended family leave motorists with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and stiff joints.
Though men, women and even animals can be visited by holiday syndrome, married women chiefly bear the brunt of it, as the duties they face are most often the source of acute psychological and physical stress.
As the back-pain riddled Lee attested to, women spend large portions of the Lunar Holiday preparing food for “jesa”, a ceremony held in memory of the family’s ancestors. With South Korea being a hierarchical, top-down society, women toil underneath the supervision of their mother-in-law or the wives of their husband’s older brothers. A strong emphasis on obedience to one’s social superiors or elders creates an environment in which repression of one’s own frustrations is a must to preserve social harmony.
No wonder then, that women regard the holidays with deep apprehension. In an illuminating study conducted last year among 562 married individuals, a group of researchers from Chungnam National University Hospital found that stress among married women connected to the holidays was higher (32.4 points) than holding a debt of $10,000 (31 points).
Though men face different ordeals, they likewise can feel worse for wear after celebrating the Lunar New Year with relatives. Young adults who are unemployed and unmarried, targets of interrogation and disapproval for their failure to remove the prefix from either one of those conditions, find family get-togethers so unbearable that there are those who stay away, holed up in motels and hotels or finding a temp job as an excuse.
Men (who are employed and married) are rarely if ever called upon to help out in the kitchen. Naturally, they are not questioned on their job and marital status. However, as many of them are the designated drivers, they are at risk of wrist ailments and other maladies that can easily lead to greater health problems if neglected. In addition, as abstaining from consuming alcohol is unthinkable for most, excessive drinking can lead to holiday heart syndrome, a condition describing the onset of an irregular heartbeat caused by excessive alcohol intake.
Long holidays are hard on pets as well. According to veterinarians, the number of visits by pet owners to the vet doubles during holiday periods. The declining health of animals is attributed to overeating, high stress levels caused by exposure to many new environments and strangers and being cooped up in long distance car rides.
The proposed remedies for victims of holiday syndrome, according to one Daegu hospital director, are going to bed early and getting at minimum six hours of sleep a day, intermittent stretching of sore backs and limbs and application of ice or heat packs to muscles.
Others look to treat themselves by splurging, with retailers happy to oblige them. In preparation of the influx of this particular crowd, certain department stores this year held special sales on furniture branded as “just for me” while offering complimentary hand massages and pedicures.
CJ Mall revealed that sales of luxury brands like Gucci and Prada surged by 40 percent compared to the Lunar New Year period last year. In addition, pricey foreign travel packages to the United States and Europe likewise jumped by 140 percent.
Though South Koreans’ spending post-holiday may be a boon to the economy, the idea that one needs to recover from a four-day weekend is a concerning predicament that demands a better solution than luxury products or bed rest. That a New Year’s celebration can leave one 47-year old woman unable to move for fear of pain suggests that the preceding weekend was perhaps no celebration at all.