‘Seollal’ and ‘Chuseok’ are the most important traditional holidays for most Koreans. Millions of people visit their hometown to celebrate with family during these times. During Seollal, Koreans hold a memorial service for their ancestors and perform ‘Sebae’ (a formal bow of respect to elders), as a New Year’s greeting. Offices and banks are closed during these holidays. However, tourist attractions such as palaces and museums remain open, as do most restaurants, department stores and other facilities.
Official Holidays in Korea
New Year’s Day (1 January)
Like other countries following the modern Gregorian calendar, Korea celebrates the first day of the year on January 1st.
Seollal (Korean New Year’s Day) on the first day of the first month by the lunar calendar
Lunar New Year’s Day (Seollal) is one of the most important holidays of the year for Koreans. In fact, it’s regarded as more significant than New Year’s Day. Most businesses close during this period and people generally take a few days off work to visit their hometown and to spend time with family and other loved ones. Korean’s observe the first day of Seollal by waking up early, getting dressed in their best outfits and bowing to their elders as a reaffirmation of family ties. Elaborate feasts are held with delicious dishes such as ‘Ttokguk’ and ‘Manduguk’ and traditional games are also played.
Independence Movement Day (1 March)
This day commemorates the Declaration of Independence, proclaimed on March 1, 1919, while still under Japanese colonization. A reading of the declaration takes place during a special ceremony held at Tapgol Park in Seoul. This is the same location of the first public reading of the document.
Children’s Day (5 May)
Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, cinema or amusement park, the aim of this day is fun and to let the kids do what they want to.
Buddha’s Birthday; the eighth day of the fourth month by the lunar calendar
This sacred day is takes place on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Elaborate and solemn rituals are held at many Buddhist temples across Korea and lanterns are hung in the temple courtyards to acknowledge the event. On the Sunday before Buddha’s birthday, the lanterns are lit and carried in evening parades.
Memorial Day (6 June)
Memorial Day is set aside to honour the brave soldiers and civilians who gave their lives for their country. This is one of the largest ceremonies in Korea and it is held at the National Cemetery in Seoul.
Liberation Day (15 August)
This day commemorates the Japanese acceptance of the Allies’ terms of surrender and the resulting liberation of Korea in 1945.
Chuseok; the fifteenth day of the eighth month by the lunar calendar
Chuseok is one of the most important traditional holidays of the year. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Chuseok is often referred to as a Korean Thanksgiving Day. It’s a celebration of the harvest and thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth. Family members travel from all over the country to visit their ancestral homes.
National Foundation Day (3 October)
This day commemorates the founding of the Korean nation back in 2333 B.C by the legendary god-king Dangun. An annual ceremony is held at Mount Manisan’s ancient altar, in Ganghwado Province. It is believed the altar was erected by Dangun, as a mark of respect and thanks to his father and grandfather in heaven.
Hangeul Day (9 October)
Hangeul Day (also referred to as ‘Hangeul Proclamation Day’ or ‘Korean Alphabet Day’) is a commemoration held to acknowledge the importance of the creation of ‘Hangeul’, the country’s native alphabet. The alphabet was proclaimed by the publication of ‘Hunmin Jeongeum’ on this day in 1446.
Christmas (25 December)
Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Many downtown metropolitan districts are decorated with Christmas trees and lights. The busy commercial districts like Myeong-dong, Itaewon Special Tourist Zone, and Hongik University (Hongdae) are packed with people seeking a festive Christmas ambiance.
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