Koreans officially follow the Gregorian (solar) calendar. There are 11 public holidays, most of which have fixed dates.
Some, however, are celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Stores and businesses in Korea are typically open 7 days a week and most holidays, with the exception of major holidays such as Seollal and Chuseok.
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 1 is observed as a public holiday in Korea, and many offices and business may close. People may send holiday messages to family and friends or attend New Year’s Eve parties, but most festivities are reserved for the lunar New Year, Seollal.
Lunar New Year
The Lunar New Year, known as Seollal in Korean, is one of Korea’s most important holidays. The first day of the lunar year, the day before and the day after are also considered holidays. As this 3-day celebration approaches, department stores and markets are crowded with last-minute shoppers and traffic between Seoul and the provinces is very heavy as people travel to their hometowns. Visitors should be aware that many stores, restaurants, and other spots are closed at this time. However, cultural sites such as the Namsangol Hanok Village, museums, and the palaces hold special events where tourists can experience traditional Korean culture and games.
March 1: Independence Movement Day
This holiday commemorates the March 1 Independence Movement of 1919. On this day, the Korean people declared their nation’s independence from Japan by proclaiming the Korean Declaration of Independence in Tapgol Park (formerly Pagoda Park), after which the Independence Movement spread to the rest of the country. This led to the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.
April 8 (Lunar Calendar): Buddha’s Birthday
Korea celebrates the birth of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Korean temples hold festivals and parades and hang colorful lanterns with good wishes. The streets are also lined with lanterns, and Seoul residents enjoy the Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade on the weekend closest to the holiday.
May 5: Children’s Day
Children’s writer and social activist Bang Jeong-hwan proclaimed the first Children’s Day in Korea in 1923. Since then, May 5 has been a day of celebration that honors children of all ages. Amusement parks, zoos, and national parks are crowded with families on this day.
June 6: Memorial Day
On Memorial Day, Koreans show their patriotism by remembering the men and women who died in defense of the nation. There are many ceremonies held throughout the country, but the biggest memorial service is held at the Seoul National Cemetery, attended by the president and other important government officials. Veterans and civilians alike are welcome at the ceremony, and many others hold remembrances by visiting one of Korea’s many memorials and monuments. A siren sounds at 10 a.m. for 1 minute, during which people bow their heads in silent prayer. Many homes are also adorned with the national flag, the Taegeukgi.
August 15: Liberation Day
Liberation Day commemorates Japan’s official surrender in World War II and the end of the Japan’s 35-year colonization of Korea. ROK was established on the same day in 1948. Celebratory events are held in every corner of the country, the largest of which being the commemorative ceremony at the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan. Many people fly the Taegeukgi outside their house on this day.
August 15 (Lunar Calendar): Chuseok
Also called Hangawi, Chuseok is one of the most important traditional holidays in Korea (along with Seollal). The holiday falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, with the day before and the day after also being considered holidays for a 3-day event. During Chuseok, Koreans gather with their families to perform ancestral rites, visit the graves of their ancestors, and eat a traditional feast, including sweet rice cakes called seongpyeon. People in Korea know when Chuseok is coming near because the markets and department stores are packed with people buying last-minute gifts and food and the highways are jammed with people trying to visit their hometowns. Many stores and restaurants are closed during this time, but traditional games such as ssireum (wrestling) and dances such as the ganggangsullae can be seen at folk festivals, and cultural sites such as palaces and museums hold events.
October 3: National Foundation Day
This day celebrates the foundation of Gojoseon, the first kingdom of Korea. It is said that Dangun, the grandson of Hwanin (“the Lord of Heaven”), founded Gojoseon on the 3rd day of the 10th lunar month in 2333 BCE. Dangun is worshipped in modern times today as a deity by the followers of the Cheondogyo and Daejonggyo religions and is recognized by Koreans as the mythical progenitor of the Korean people.
October 9: Hangeul Day
Also known as Korean Alphabet Day, this day celebrates the creation and the proclamation of the Korean Alphabet. Hangeul was established by King Sejong the Great in the 9th month of the lunar calendar in 1447. Established in 1945 as a national holiday, Hangeul Day was legally removed as a national holiday in 1991 but remained a national commemoration day. As of 2013, Hangeul Day has regained its status as a national holiday. Exhibitions, festivals, and contests highlighting the alphabet and its uses are held around the country.
December 25: Christmas Day
With a large Christian population, Christmas Day has become an important celebration in the ROK. Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, so many believers attend church and hold religious observations. For many Koreans, though, it is a secular and romantic holiday when couples go on dates and families enjoy the festive atmosphere.