5 May is a public holiday in South Korea. Do you know why? Because 5 May is the Children’s Day in South Korea. Most countries over the world have designated a day as the Children’s Day but not so many designate it as a public holiday. Actually, May is considered as a “family month” in South Korea because apart from the Children’s Day (5 May), there are also the Parents’ Day (8 May) and the Teachers’ Day (15 May). However, unlike the Children’s Day, the Parents’ Day and the Teachers’ Day are not public holidays in South Korea. In this blog post, let’s talk about these three special days in South Korea.
Children’s Day (어린이날) (5 May)
The Children’s Day began in 1923. At that time, Korea was still under Japanese occupation and independence activists tried to liberate the country from Japanese rule. Bang Jeong-hwan (방정환) was one of these activists. He believed that education of the children was very important to the future of the country and children should be respected as much as the adults. He helped translate children’s stories and set up various organizations for children’s welfare. He even created a more respectful Korean word “어린이” (“eorini” which literally means “young person”) to be used as the term for “children”.
The first Children’s Day began on 1 May 1923 and one of the slogans printed on the flyers was “Don’t look down on children; look at them”. In that year, Bang Jeong-hwan also created the magazine “어린이” in which new stories and songs specially made for the children were published. Later, the Japanese oppression grew much stronger and as more and more people celebrated the Children’s Day, the Japanese government banned the Children’s Day celebrations in 1939. The celebrations resumed only after independence in 1946 and the Children’s Day was changed to 5 May in 1961 and became a public holiday in the 1970’s.
On the Children’s Day, parents usually buy gifts for their children and that’s why the department stores launch promotional events for the Children’s Day. There are no items which are designated gifts for this day and parents usually buy gifts which their kids like. However, according to the survey conducted by the online shopping site, 11st.co.kr, parents prefer gifts which are educational in nature but the kids prefer toys or robots from animated films. In the end, it seems that the kids win since robots are always the best selling products. On the other hand, as this day is a public holiday in South Korea, parents can take a day off and bring their kids to places where they can enjoy the time together, for example, parks, theme parks, zoos, museums, and cinemas.
The famous songwriters, Yun Seok-jung (윤석중) and Yun Geuk-yeong (윤극영), have written a song entitled “Children’s Day Song” (어린이날 노래). You can listen to the song by watching this video.
Parents’ Day (어버이날) (8 May)
A lot of countries in the world have separate days for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. In South Korea, these two days are combined into one day – the Parents’ Day which falls on 8 May. In the 1930’s, some Christian communities started celebrating the Mother’s Day and in 1956, 8 May was designated as the Mother’s day by the government. Later, the question of the Father’s Day was raised and in 1973, 8 May was designated as the Parents’ Day.
On the Parents’ Day, the children show their love and respect to their parents by giving carnations as gifts. Some students may also make flowers themselves or write letters expressing their love towards their parents at school.
Teachers’ Day (스승의 날) (15 May)
15 May is the Teachers’ Day in South Korea and students show their love and respect to their teachers by giving carnations as gifts. The students may also write cards to express their appreciation of the efforts made by their teachers. Former students may also visit their ex-teachers. It was said that this day originated from a group of Red Cross youth team members visiting their sick ex-teachers in the hospitals. Originally this day fell on 26 May but in 1965, it was changed to 15 May which is King Sejong’s birthday to commemorate his teachings and achievements. If you want to know more about the achievements of King Sejong, you can refer to my blog post dated 16 January 2015.
Even though you may not be in South Korea, you may still observe the Children’s Day, Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day by showing your love towards the children, your parents, and teachers in this “family month”. Happy Children’s Day! 🙂
Reminder: The next post will be published on 7 May 2015. Watch this space!
“Parents, kids prefer different gifts for Children’s Day“, The Chosun Ilbo, 2015-04-23
Suzy Chung, “Korea’s Children’s Day and Bang Jeong-hwan“, The Korea Blog, 2013-05-03
이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의, 《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 120-125쪽
“Parents’ Day“, Wikipedia
“Teachers’ Day“, Wikipedia