When you sign up to teach English in Korea you are beginning what is sure to be an exciting adventure in a country to which you may have had only brief exposure before. While we are all united by the common bond of our humanity, the holidays which order the Korean calendar can seem very different and are an interesting reflection of the Korean people’s traditions and values. Here are a few major holidays to keep in mind, whose celebrations include a day off work – and the perfect opportunity to explore more closely the culture of your new home.
Lunar New Year
Many celebrate the Solar New Year of the Gregorian calendar, on January 1, but of even more importance to the Korean people is the Lunar New Year, traditionally three days long (comprising the day before, the day of and the day after). This family holiday – which took place in 2013 on February 10 – emphasizes closeness with family, both living and deceased, through remembrances, folk games, special foods and conversations and stories.
May 5 is officially designated Children’s Day in South Korea. Kids are spoiled by their parents, given gifts and treats, and taken to zoos and amusement parks. It’s a lovely celebration which makes the kids feel special and loved, particularly in a culture which emphasizes the importance of elders. In this instance, the little people who are the future of Korea are given special preference on Children’s Day.
The large Buddhist population in Korea ensures that Buddha’s birthday is celebrated with all due festivity. The exact date changes, following the lunar calendar, but it is typically held in the spring. For most, the high point of the celebration is the breathtakingly beautiful Traditional Lantern Exhibition, which is held in Bongeunsa. Important traditions like this are just one among many things to consider before committing to an overseas school in Korea, where the variation in culture may come as a shock – but also a profound joy.