Public holidays in South Korea are based on the Gregorian as well as the lunar calendar. The two most important South Korean holidays are the Lunar New Year’s Day and the Korean Thanksgiving Day. Families usually celebrate these South Korea holidays together. Government offices and banks are closed on official holidays, but most museums, restaurants and shops are open.
New Year’s Day
This New Year is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar on January 1st. One of the most popular ways of celebrating this day is to travel to Jung dong jin, which is a place in the country where sunrise is first seen. In ancient times, New Year’s was celebrated on March 1st according to the Roman calendar, but in 153 BC, it was changed to January 1st as decreed by the Roman consul at the time.
Korean New Year’s Day
Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf
This New Year, or Seollal, is celebrated according to the lunar calendar and celebrates the first day of the lunar year. It is considered more important that the solar new year on January 1st. The Gregorian date may change slightly every year. This is the day families join together to perform ancestral rites and show respect to their elders. There is a traditional bow performed, and teokguk, or rice cake soup, is usually prepared and eaten. It’s a bit like a collective birthday because, after eating the soup, everyone is considered a year older on this day. The rice cakes in the soup symbolize longevity and purity. It is a three day holiday.
Independence Movement Day
Celebrated on March 1st, this day marks Korea’s independence from Japanese colonization, which began on March 1, 1919. This is also a day that Koreans commemorate the men and women who fought and died during the Independence Movement. The March 1st Movement, also called the Samil Movement was one of the first times the Korean people joined together to resist the repressive, military rule of Japan.
Based on the Self-determination proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Korean students who were studying in Tokyo, published a demand for freedom from Japanese colonial rule. Many of the more than two million Korean demonstrators in more than 1,500 demonstrations were massacred by the Japanese army and police.
Photo credit: Katie Rose Harper
Children’s Day is celebrated on May 5th. Many events are organized for children throughout the country in parks and toy stores. The day was designated to remind children and families that children should grow up without discrimination and have wisdom and brave hearts. The day is also set aside to listen to children and plan for their happiness.
Started on May 1, 1922, by several children’s rights activists including Bang Jeong-Hwan, a children’s rights activist and a pioneer of children’s literature in Korean, the day was changed to May 5th and became a public holiday in 1975. The original aim of the day was to recognize the importance of improving children’s lives both materially and culturally. Many things were organized especially for children such as a children’s magazine, theater festivals, public readings as well as children’s organizations and clubs.
Photo credit: Korea.net
Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated according to the lunar calendar on the eighth day of the fourth month. The date will change slightly every year according to the Gregorian calendar. Buddhism and Christianity are the two main religions in Korea. The day is a Buddhist holiday and is called The Day that Buddha Came in Korean. Buddhist temples throughout the country hang many brightly lit, colorful lamps the whole month as part of their celebrations.
Many temples provide free breakfast, lunch and tea to anyone who visits the temple. The meal for both breakfast and lunch is usually a signature Korean dish of white rice and spiced, sautéed vegetables called bibimbap. It has chilies, soy sauce, and in some places a raw or fried egg on top or some sliced beef. Everything is stirred together before eating and it should be eaten while it is still hot. CNN Travel called bibimbap one of the World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods by a reader’s poll in 2011.
Korean Memorial Day
Memorial Day is celebrated on June 6th. It is a day when Koreans remember and honor the soldiers and civilians who died for their country. While it is for remembrance for all Koreans who died, the day is especially focused on those who died during the Korean War from June 1950 to July 1953. There is a one minute silent tribute at 10am when sirens sound throughout the country, and all Korean flags are flown at half-staff. At the Seoul National Cemetery, a national commemoration ceremony is held every year.
Korean Liberation Day
This is another holiday that marks Korea’s independence. Called Gwangbokjeol, by Koreans, which means Restoration of Light Day, it is one of the Korean holidays that mark its independence from Japan on August 15, 1945. It also celebrates the establishment of the Korean government.
There are many celebrations in South Korea on this day starting with the official ceremony at Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan or, sometimes at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. The president is always in attendance. The national flag is displayed in most homes and commercial buildings. The public museums and other places are open free of charge to descendants of activists for the independence movement, and also free of charge, they can use public transportation and intercity trains. Special pardons are issued on this day by the government.
This is the other traditional day of the South Korea holidays. It is celebrated according to the lunar calendar on the 15th day of the eighth month and is a three-day holiday. The date will change slightly every year according to the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated around the autumn equinox. Families join together for ancestral rituals, to celebrate a good harvest and have a feast that is prepared by the whole family. The traditional food includes songpyeon rice cakes that are steamed on top of pine tree needles and several rice wines including dongdongju and sindoju.
National Foundation Day
Photo credit: Ahn Young-joon
National Foundation Day, called Gaecheonjeol in Korean, is celebrated on October 3rd. It celebrates the first state of the Korean nation, the ancient state of Gojoseon. Tradition says the state was founded by Dangun Wanggeom in 2333 BC, who, according to ancient folklore, is considered the first Korean ancestor.
Hangeul Day is celebrated October 9th and celebrates the written form of the Korean language. The invention of hangul, the alphabet, in 1443 and the proclamation of it in 1446 are celebrated this day. The language was invented by King Segong the Great, who is considered one of the most honored rulers in Korean history. In 1997, the language became part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World list.
Christmas in South Korea
Photo credit: Rory and Jamie
Christmas is celebrated on December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ especially by Korean Catholics. Many cities decorate in the traditional way with trees and lights. The commercial districts such as Itaewon Special Tourist Zone, Myeog-dong and Hongik University are crowded with people celebrating the holiday.