Learning about the traditional holidays of a culture offers an interesting glimpse into their history and values. While you may be familiar with Korean pop culture, how much do you know about their more traditional side?
Embark on a journey to discover some of Korea’s traditional holidays and festivals. From religious events to seasonal festivals, many of these significant days are also widely celebrated in South Korea, so you can experience them for yourself when you visit! Let’s explore some of these richly meaningful holidays and festivals of Korea!
1. Seollal (설날)
The Korean New Year, or Seollal, is probably the most important holiday in the Korean calendar. Seollal falls on the first day of the lunar calendar, which means it falls on the same day as what Singaporeans know as Chinese New Year.
The traditional holiday in Korean is celebrated with the coming together of family and relatives. Younger family members take a deep bow called 세배 (sebae) as a respectful greeting to their elders, and the family partakes in feasting on seasonal food as well as 떡국 [tteokguk (rice cake soup)]. Eating this rice cake soup is regarded as a symbolism of growing one year older.
2. Daeboreum (대보름)
Two weeks after Seollal comes Daeboreum, the festival of the Greater Full Moon. It celebrates the first full moon of the new year, and is frequently commemorated with lanterns lighting, special foods, and traditional activities.
One activity is called Daljip, which involves building a massive bonfire out of straw or twigs. As the moon rises, the bonfire is set alight as a symbol of driving away evil spirits and welcoming good fortune for the year ahead. Another well-loved tradition is Dalmaji, the act of going up to the mountains or other high point to try to catch a view of the first moonrise. It is said that the first persons who see the moonrise will have good luck for the rest of the year.
3. Chuseok (추석)
Korea’s mid-autumn festival, observed on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year, is widely regarded as the holiday only next in importance to Seollal. In North and South Korea, Chuseok is celebrated with a 3-day holiday. Traditionally, Chuseok is a time for giving thanks for the harvest, which is marked by offering new harvests to the ancestral spirits.
Today, ancestral memorial services and grave visiting is still observed by many during the holiday, where families travel back to their hometowns or ancestral graves to pay respects and maintain the graves. Other customs enjoyed during Chuseok are exchanging of gifts, digging into traditional festival food, and playing traditional games.
4. Dano (단오)
While not an official public holiday in South Korea, Dano is considered one of the major traditional holidays there. Observed on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, Dano is widely believed to have originated from shamanistic rituals in celebration of the end of the sowing season.
These days, Dano is a day of lively celebrations, often involving song, dance, and wine. People celebrate by wearing clothes in blue or red, and eat rice cakes and other traditional foods. One of the interesting customs sees women washing their hair in changpo, a type of plant, which is believed to give hair more shine. Other festivities include masked dances, traditional games, and more.
We’ve only given you a taste of some of Korea’s traditional holidays, but there’s so much more to experience and explore! The best way to enjoy any of these holidays is to actually be in Korea to soak in the celebratory atmosphere of a festival in person.
Ready yourself to revel in one or more of these festivals by picking up some Korean language basics. It will definitely come in handy when you have to navigate your way around South Korea’s streets and in your conversations with locals to learn more about their customs! Here at Sejong Korean Language School, our Korean language courses are just what you need to get started!