There are approximately 13~15 official holidays in total a year. Most Korean holidays (usually marked in red on the calendar) are determined by the solar calendar, although the Chuseok and Seollal holidays in particular are determined by Korea’s traditional lunar calendar. Government offices and banks are closed on holidays, but museums, palaces and other tourist sites, as well as department stores and restaurants, are usually open.
January 1: New Year’s Day (Sinjeong)
Seollal: Lunar New Year’s Day, 3-5 days, falls in between Jan. and late Feb.
Samiljeol: March 1, Independence Declaration Day
Buddha’s Birthday: falls in between April and May in lunar calendar
May 5: Children’s Day
June 6: Memorial Day
July 17: Constitution Day
August 15: Korean Independence Day
Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving, falls in between Sep. and Oct.
October 3: National Foundation Day
December 25: Christmas
A. New Year’s Day (January 1st)
Koreans celebrate both Western New Year and Lunar New Year. Koreans count themselves one year older on January 1st, not on their actual birthdays. Note that when a baby is born in Korea, it is automatically “one year old” in consideration of 9 months in its mother’s womb. Thus, Koreans are usually 1~2 years younger than they count themselves as. This can be important when dealing with younger children. If you’re told you’re going to be teaching five-year olds, double check if this is ‘Korean age’ or ‘Western age’.
B. Seollal, or Lunar New Year’s Day (Usually between late January to late February)
The first day of the lunar Korean calendar. It is the most important of the traditional Korean holidays, and is considered a more important holiday than the solar New Year’s Day. Families generally reunite and travel to go back to their hometown during this holiday. This is the most prominent occasion on which Koreans honor their ancestors and older living relatives. Young people usually receive gifts of cash for correctly executing a traditional bow in front of elders and wishing them good health and prosperity for the new year.
C. Samiljeol, Independence Declaration Day (March 1st)
This day commemorates the March 1st Movement in 1919. On March 1 of this year, the Korean people declared their nation’s independence from Japan. It was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (April 13, 1919).
D. Buddha’s Birthday (follows the Lunar Calendar, varies in April ~ May)
In South Korea, Buddhism is the one of two major religions, with Christianity. Solemn rituals are held at Buddhist temples across the country. Monks and laymen march through city streets with beautiful paper lanterns at night in Jongro.
E. Children’s Day (May 5th)
May 5 is officially recognized as Children’s Day in South Korea. Children receive gifts from parents and teachers and are taken on family outings.
F. Memorial Day (June 6th)
This day commemorates men and women who died while in military service or independence movement. On this day, national commemorating ceremony is held in National Cemetery.
G. Constitution Day (July 17th)
This day celebrates the establishment of the first Korean constitution on July 17, 1948. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) was officially established about a month later.
H. Liberation Day or Korean Independence Day (August 15th)
On this day, Emperor Shōwa announced surrender and World War II was ended. On the same day of 1948, the government of the Republic of Korea was established. It is celebrated by Koreans as the official end to Japanese colonial rule and the beginning of the modern era in Korea.
I. Chuseok (Usually between Sept~Oct, follows the Lunar calendar)
Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month on the lunar calendar. With Seollal, it is one of the most important Korean traditional holidays. As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food. At Chuseok and Lunar New Year’s Day, it is common for Koreans to wear traditional clothing, called Hanbok. The days before and after Chuseok are official holidays as well. Koreans often refer to this holiday as “Korean Thanksgiving”. If you are planning to go somewhere during this time, it is an excellent idea to plan and book ahead.
J. National Foundation Day (October 3rd)
This day celebrates the foundation of Gojoseon, the first state of Korean nation in 2333 B.C. by the legendary god-king Dangun.A simple ceremony is held at an altar on top of Mt. Manisan, Ganghwado province.
K. Christmas (December 25th)
Christmas Eve is a work day, but the Christmas day is an official holiday for everyone. Young Koreans go out to parties and dinners on December 25th, so if you want to eat out, it is a good idea to reserve a table. You will have to work on December 26th.