Culture in Korea

Celebrating Korean Holidays: A Comprehensive Guide for Immigrants

Korea’s cultural depth is reflected through its traditional holidays. As an immigrant, celebrating these events allows you to delve deeper into the rich history and customs of this vibrant nation. This guide will walk you through the most prominent Korean holidays and what to expect during these significant events.

Seollal (설날): Korean Lunar New Year

Seollal marks the first day of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in January or February. It’s a family-centered holiday involving ancestral rituals and traditional games. Also, Koreans enjoy a bowl of Tteokguk (떡국), a soup with sliced rice cakes symbolizing the start of a new age.

  • When: January or February (depends on the lunar calendar)
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Public places may be crowded, and some businesses might close.

Independence Movement Day (삼일절)

Independence Movement Day commemorates the nationwide civil outbreak against colonial rule on March 1, 1919.

  • When: March 1st
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Various festivities, including parades and performances, are held across the country.

Buddha’s Birthday (부처님 오신 날)

Celebrating the birth of Buddha, this holiday transforms the nation into a festive tapestry of lanterns. Lotus Lantern Festival (연등회) is a highlight, where the streets of Seoul light up with vibrant, colored lanterns.

  • When: April or May (depends on the lunar calendar)
  • Where: Nationwide, major events in Seoul
  • Things to note: Everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of religious beliefs.
Buddha's Birthday Parade
Buddha’s Birthday Parade

Labor Day (노동절)

Labor Day, also known as May Day, is a day to celebrate workers’ rights and achievements. It’s not a public holiday but is marked with rallies and celebrations.

  • When: May 1st
  • Where: Nationwide
    Things to note: Labor unions and workers often hold rallies and marches.

Children’s Day (어린이날)

Children’s Day is a public holiday set aside to honor the children of the nation. Many families go out for the day to amusement parks or movies.

  • When: May 5th
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Expect children-centric events and activities throughout the country.

Parents’ Day (어버이날)

Parents’ Day is a day to honor parents for their dedication and love. Children often present their parents with carnation corsages and special gifts.

  • When: May 8th
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Many stores offer special promotions and discounts for Parents’ Day gifts.

Memorial Day (현충일)

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives for their country during the Korean War and other conflicts.

  • When: June 6th
  • Where: Nationwide, with major ceremonies in the National Cemetery in Seoul
  • Things to note: National flags are flown at half-mast, and a moment of silence is observed.

Chuseok (추석): Korean Thanksgiving Day

Chuseok is a harvest festival, where Koreans return to their hometowns to pay respects to their ancestors with freshly harvested rice and fruits. Songpyeon (송편), a half-moon-shaped rice cake, is a special delicacy.

  • When: September or October (15th day of the 8th lunar month)
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Expect heavy traffic and crowded public transportation.

Gaecheonjeol (개천절): National Foundation Day

Gaecheonjeol commemorates the legendary formation of the first Korean state, Gojoseon, in 2333 B.C. Ceremonies are held at the ancient capital, Buyeo, and Seoul’s Namsan mountain.

  • When: October 3rd
  • Where: Nationwide, major events in Buyeo and Seoul
  • Things to note: Public places may be crowded due to national ceremonies.

Hangeul Day (한글날)

Hangeul Day commemorates the creation and proclamation of Hangeul, the native alphabet of the Korean language. The day serves to promote and appreciate the scientific excellence and importance of Hangeul.

  • When: October 9th
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Many language-themed exhibitions and events are held during this time.

Pepero Day (빼빼로 데이)

It is an observance where people exchange Pepero snacks to show affection for friends and loved ones, due to the date’s resemblance to the snack (11/11).

  • When: November 11th
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Pepero gift sets are widely available leading up to this day.
Pepero, Korean Snack
Pepero, Korean Snack

Dongji (동지): Winter Solstice

Dongji is the Korean celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Koreans traditionally make red bean porridge, Patjuk (팥죽), believed to ward off evil spirits.

  • When: Usually December 22nd
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Many families enjoy making and eating Patjuk(팥죽) together.

Christmas (크리스마스)

Christmas is widely celebrated across Korea, especially among the Christian population. The streets of major cities light up with festive decorations.

  • When: December 25th
  • Where: Nationwide
  • Things to note: Christian services, gift-giving, and festive decorations are common.

Please note that the exact dates for some holidays may vary each year, especially those determined by the lunar calendar. It is always a good idea to check the dates for each year.

Through celebrating and understanding these Korean holidays, immigrants can gain a deeper insight into Korea’s unique cultural heritage and contemporary life. Whether it’s partaking in traditional customs or simply enjoying the holiday atmosphere, each event offers a new opportunity to engage with the community and build lasting memories.

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