South Korea is a nation with a long and storied cultural history, from struggles against foreign invaders to ancient religious and traditional customs. The country's celebrations and holidays reflect these traditions and place a strong emphasis on honoring families and ancestors. Koreans observe both the Western solar and lunar calendars, so lunar calendar holidays fall on different days each year.
New Year's Day
Koreans celebrate both the solar New Year, each January 1, and the lunar New Year, known in Korea as Seollal. Koreans count themselves a year older on this day, rather than on their actual birthdays. The Seollal celebrations reflect the holiday's status as one of the more important in the country. Held on the first day of the first month of the lunar year, Seollal is a three-day celebration in which families get together, eat traditional Korean food and honor their ancestors and elders through traditional bows called sebae.
Samil Independence Movement Day
Samil Independence Movement Day is held on March 1 every year to commemorate Korea's independence from Japan in 1919. The celebration includes the reading of the Korean Declaration of Independence and the shouting of the independence cry, "Long live an independent Korea!" in Seoul's Tapgok Park, which is a recreation of the original reading in that park in 1919.
Held on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, Buddha's birthday is celebrated across the country in Buddhist temples and their courtyards. Buddha, the founder of traditional Buddhism, is the primary figure in the religion, which is observed by roughly 25 percent of Koreans. Elaborate and colorful paper lanterns are lit and carried around towns by adherents to the Korean Buddhist faith during nightly parades in the week leading up to the Buddha's birthday.
Children's Day is held each year in early May. The day is dedicated to children and their enjoyment. Parents take their kids to amusement parks, beaches and other outings. The children also receive gifts on this day.
Chuseok, also known as the Harvest Moon Festival or Korean Thanksgiving, is held on the 14th through 16th days of the eighth lunar month each year. It celebrates bountiful harvests in a traditionally agrarian society and emphasizes visiting with family. Chuseok also pays homage to the full moon, seen as both functionally and symbolically brightening dark times. For these reasons, it is one of the most important holidays in Korea. Koreans wear traditional clothing and visit their ancestral homes on these days. They also celebrate with large feasts, visits to ancestral graves, folk games and dances.
National Foundation Day
National Foundation Day, or Gaecheonjeol Day, commemorates the traditional and mythical founding of the Korean nation in 2333 B.C. by the ancient god-king Dangun Wanggeom, known as the "first Korean." To celebrate this holiday, a simple ceremony is held at an altar on top of Mount Manisan.
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