Korea has eleven public holidays celebrated every year. Eight of these have fixed dates while Seollal, Chuseok, and Buddha’s Birthday are observed in accordance to the lunar calendar. During public holidays, offices, schools and banks are closed nationwide. However, department stores, restaurants, and amusement facilities are open. Only during Seollal and Chuseok, which are major traditional holidays in Korea, that almost every establishment closes including amusement facilities, shops, and restaurants.
Just like most countries around the world, the first day of the year is also a holiday in Korea. Some Koreans may throw a New Year’s Eve party while others go to see the first sunrise on a mountaintop or seaside.
Lunar New Year’s Day or Seollal is one of the most important holidays in Korea. Koreans celebrate it for 3 days by travelling back to their hometowns to get together with their families and perform ancestral rites. Families also prepare a variety of traditional food especially rice cake soup that represents good health and long life.
The Independence Movement Day, also known as March 1st Movement or “Samiljeol” in Korean, is a public holiday that commemorates the March 1st Independence Movement in 1919. The protest movement on that day by Korean people, students, and religious leaders called for independence of Korea from Japan. Demonstrations were held in Seoul and many other cities around the country. About 2 million Koreans joined in the over 1,500 demonstrations. The protesters were severely suppressed by the Japanese police and army with thousands killed, wounded, and arrested. The March 1st protest is crucial in the country’s history since it triggered a nationwide independence movement against Japanese rule.
This is the day Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha. Colorful lotus lanterns are hung in temples, homes, and streets all month long. A famous attraction during this time is the display of large lotus lanterns at Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul. On Buddha’s Birthday, most temples would provide free meals and drinks to temple-goers.
Every May 5th of the year, Korea celebrates its youngest residents, the children. On this day, parents would spend time with their young children doing activities like visiting amusement parks, having picnics or treating them to their favorite snacks. Parents would also give their children gifts, most commonly toys, on this special day.
On this day, South Korea commemorates all of the Korean military men and women who died in service during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Battle of Cheongsan-ri, and Battle of Bongoh Town. Many people would visit the Seoul National Memorial Cemetery, burial site of those who died, where a special ceremony is held in honor of those veterans.
Also known as Korean Independence Day or “Gwangbokjeol” in Korean, NAtional Liberation Day is celebrated annually on the 15th of August. It commemorates the independence of Korea from Japan, which colonial rule lasted from 1910-1945.
Hangul Day commemorates the invention and proclamation of the Korean alphabet, Hangul. Until the 15th centruy, Korea had its own language but did not have its own alphabet. Instead, Koreans used Chinese characters, Hanja, to write. Since it was difficult to learn, only the upper-class were able to read and write leaving the lower class people illiterate. in 1443, King Sejong the Great decided that Korea should have its own alphabet that every Korean, regardless of class, could easily learn. And therefore, he created Hangul which he then promulgated to the public in 1446.
Chuseok is one of the major traditional holidays in Korea. Koreans celebrate It for 3 days in Autumn as a thanksgiving of the good harvest. This is when Koreans visit their hometowns and families get together to share a feast of traditional food. Family members also hold a memorial service or visit ancestral graves to honor their ancestors.
National Foundation Day or “Gaecheonjeol” is a holiday that celebrates the mythical creation of Korea more than 4,000 years ago. As the story goes, Hwanun, son of the Lord of the Heaven, descended to earth. He then encountered a tiger and a bear that asked him to turn them into humans. To test their worthiness, Hwanung asked them to stay inside a cave for hundred days with nothing to eat but garlic and mugwort. The tiger soon gave up after 21 days while the bear completed the challenge. The bear then transformed into a beautiful woman who married Hwanung and gave birth to a child named Dangun. Subsequently, Dangun founded the first Korean kingdom.
South Korea is the only East Asian Nation where Christmas is a public holiday. But unlike other countries where Christmas is a big celebration, Koreans make it a time to relax with their families. They do not prepare grand meals or exchange gifts. In Korea, Christmas is traditionally a day for lovers to go on a date and spend time with each other.