In South Korea, every May 5th is designated as Children’s Day. This is a day on which children of all ages are valued, entertained, and taught a sense of national pride.
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As children are the future of the nation, Koreans take a special time each year to focus on them and teach them to be good citizens. The Motto of Children’s Day is “Be a brave and genuine child and love and help each other.”
Children’s Day first began as an innovation of the same Korean students’ movement that led to the March 1st Independence Movement that resisted Japanese colonialism. It was an attempt to instil the values of Korean culture and a love for national independence in Korea’s children. A group of Tokyo-based Korean students declared May 1st Children’s Day in 1923, and the famous children’s author, storyteller, and intellectual Bang Jung-hwan did much to popularise it. The date was soon moved to May 5th, however, because May 1st was also Laborer’s Day, and Children’s Day was not declared a public holiday in South Korea until 1975.
There are many special events and family activities that Koreans participate in along with their children every May 5th. There are children’s programs, parties, picnics, parades, pageants, plays, athletic performances, writing and drawing competitions, and more. Many parents dress their kids up in traditional Korean clothes and visit theme parks, gardens, nature reserves, zoos, museums, and cinemas. Cinemas frequently let children in for free on this day, shopkeepers sometimes give gifts to children who visit their store, and parents give presents to their children as if it were Christmas Day. Enjoying the beautiful spring scenery and pleasant spring weather are also a major aspect of celebrating the day.
Another part of Children’s Day is indulging in delicious Korean cuisine. Popular items eaten at Children’s Day meals include: mandoo, a kind of dumpling made of minced meat and vegetables; kujulpan, a platter with strips of cooked meat and vegetables that are wrapped inside of pancakes; sollongtang, a beef soup containing both rice and noodles; and songpyeon, pine-flavored rice cakes shaped like half-moons.
For official holidays like Children’s Day, Korea uses the Gregorian calendar instead of their traditional lunar calendar, so the date is always May 5th. Public holidays also see banks and offices close down, but shops, malls, parks, entertainment establishments, and restaurants will remain open. Thus, there will be plenty for the tourist to do in South Korea on Children’s Day even besides attending official Children’s Day events.
Three activities you may wish to take part in should you find yourself in South Korea on May 5th are:
- Purchase and play a game of Yut, one of the many traditional Korean games often played on Children’s Day. Yut uses a stitched cloth board, marked casting sticks instead of dice, and black and white tokens called mals. Alternatively, coins, buttons, pebbles, or Korean chess beads can be used as mals. Casting the sticks and seeing if they land facing up or down determines how far one’s mals (the Korean word for “horses”) can advance. This game is also very popular during Korean New Year celebrations.
- Watch a Tae Kwon Do contest. Tae Kwon Do and other martial arts’ demonstrations are extremely common on Children’s Day. Tae Kwon Do is a form of self defense and the Korean answer to Japan’s karate.
- Attend Buddha’s Birthday events, which are also held in May, though on varying dates due to use of the lunar calendar. Temples all over Korea will have rituals and lanterns will light up temple courtyards. Processions with paper lanterns, monks, and elaborate displays fill the streets after dark.
Anyone in South Korea for Children’s Day will witness how Koreans honour, entertain, and instruct their children on this special day with great patriotic fanfare. There will be numerous events and activities to make the trip memorable.