Koreans often call May a month of appreciation or a month for families because of the many special days designated to honor different groups of people or celebrate family togetherness. Between national holidays like Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday and other special days like Parent’s Day and Coming-of-Age Day, there are plenty of things to celebrate. (left: Families celebrate Children's Day together at Children's Grand Park in Seoul. Photo courtesy Yonhap News)
The first of these holidays is also one of the biggest: Children’s Day on May 5 is a huge celebration of the joy of being young. Many parents give their children gifts, and virtually all families with children spend the national holiday together doing activities that children enjoy. Amusement parks, gardens, zoos, museums and movie theaters fill with families, and many places are open free of charge. Writer and educator Bang Jeong-whan created the holiday as a way for people to appreciate the innocence and youth of society’s youngest members, advocating their needs in his famous work, “An Open Letter to Adults” in 1923.
Parents get their own turn on Parent’s Day on May 8, when children of all ages take the time to show their gratitude for all their mothers and fathers have done. The usual tokens of love and affection given to parents are flowers, especially red carnations. Korea has a long history of celebrating filial piety, but the holiday was only created in 1973. Many local government offices hold special ceremonies on Parent’s Day to recognize people who have taken good care of their parents and many TV stations provide special programming celebrating the enduring bond between different generations. (right: Inspecting carnations for Parent's and Teacher's Day bouquets. Photo from Yonhap News)
The second national holiday of the month is Buddha’s Birthday, which will be held on May 10 this year. On the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, Buddhists visit temples, which have been beautifully decorated with hundreds of lanterns. There’s also a major lantern parade through downtown Seoul from Dongdaemun to Jogye Temple. For a full list of festivities, including the lantern parade, street festival and performances, please visit the festival’s official website at http://llf.or.kr/main.asp
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May 15 brings another day of appreciation, this time for teachers. On Teacher’s Day, students often bring their instructors small gifts and presents, and many students give their teachers carnations. Even people who graduated long ago often send letters or call their old teachers to express their gratitude, and the government uses the day to recognize exceptional teachers. Schools usually hold special ceremonies and events or have outings to reflect on the importance of educators in individual lives and for society as a whole. (left: A coming-of-age ceremony for students at Sungyungwan University in Seoul. Photo by Yonhap News)
The third Monday in May is Coming-of-Age Day, when everyone who turns 19 that year becomes an adult. The ceremony recognizing a young person’s entry into adulthood dates back centuries, with similar ceremonies being recorded as far back as the Goryeo period (918-1392). Both boys and girls would change their clothing and hairstyles, putting on formal robes and putting up their hair for the first time. Although western clothes are normal attire for young people in contemporary Korea, on this one day, young people once again adopt the formal clothing of their ancestors to mark the transition into adulthood. Universities and local governments often sponsor special ceremonies and recognize the achievements of youth who have made special contributions to society.
By Jennifer Flinn
Korea.net English Editor and Staff Writer