A guide to major North Korean holidays -- from Kim Jong Un's birthday to a 3-day Thanksgiving

Though North Korea is widely seen as a regime notorious for its human-rights violations and bellicose rhetoric, like other countries, it observes several national and traditional holidays.

North Korea’s official holidays range from the birthday of its leaders, to its Thanksgiving Day based on the lunar calendar. Despite placing greater importance on national holidays, traditional holidays in North Korea are still observed and are comprised of cultural activities that are also recognised by South Korea.

North Korea’s major holidays are considered a day of rest, however; for traditional holidays, North Koreans are believed to make up the missed work on a Sunday before or after the holiday, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Here’s a look at some of North Korea’s major holidays that are observed as a day of rest:

February 16: Lunar New Year’s Day

Arguably more significant than New Year’s Day on January 1, the first day of the Korean lunar calendar, or “Seollal,” is celebrated by both North and South Korea.

Though the holiday was briefly passed over under Kim Il Sung’s rule, the practice was revived in 1989. The country places greater importance for national holidays, but it allows its citizens to take part in certain customs, such as visiting ancestor’s graves.

Source: Unification Ministry of South Korea

February 16: Kim Jong Il’s birthday, “Day of the shining star”

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty ImagesEthnic Koreans offer flowers on the altar for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a memorial service, Japan, December 29, 2011.

Kim Jong Il, the son of North Korea’s first leader, is believed to have been born on February 16, 1941.

He implemented the “Songun,” or military-first, policy for North Korea and implemented changes that prioritised military spending over other other domestic necessities.

He died in December 17, 2011.

Source: CBS News, CNN

April 15: Kim Il Sung’s birthday, “Day of the sun”

KCNA via Associated PressNorth Korean leader Kim Il Sung visits a grape vineyard in North Hwanghae, North Korea, in this September 1979 photo provided by North Korea’s state-run news service.

Kim Il Sung, the first leader of North Korea, is believed to have been born on April 15, 1912.

Fluent in Russian and rising through the Soviet Union military ranks, he was eventually nominated to lead North Korea. Kim Il Sung implemented a “juche” ideology that focused on self-reliance at the exclusion of any foreign influence.

He died on July 8, 1994.

Source: BBC, New York Times

April 25: Military Foundation Day

North Korea marks the founding of the Korean People’s Army by showcasing its forces in drills and parades.

Though the national holiday is observed as a day of rest, many people are still forced to take part in formal events and rallies.

Source: NK News

May 1: International Labour Day

North Korean citizens were believed to have once celebrated Labour Day with sporting events, picnics, and paying homage to their former leaders.

But after a sustained food crisis in the 1990s, defectors painted a different picture of the national holiday for those suffering from a large class gap.

“State factory workers spend the day cultivating their vegetable gardens or just keeping busy at home,” one defector said. “But workers at individually-run trading companies attend sports games put on by their employer. They even get high-end gifts like televisions and bicycles.”

Source: Daily NK

July 27: Day of Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War

North Korea marks this national holiday as the day the armistice agreement pausing the three-year Korean War was signed.

After devastating bombing raids and a traumatic ground campaign, around 3 million Koreans – 10% of the overall population – were estimated to have been killed, injured, or missing.

“I shrink with horror that I cannot express in words – at this continuous slaughter of men in Korea,” commander-in-chief of United Nations Command Gen. Douglas MacArthur said during a congressional hearing. “I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there.”

Source: The Asia-Pacific Journal,CNN

August 15: Liberation Day

Both North and South Korea celebrates its liberation from Japanese colonization. For 36 years, the Korean peninsula was under Japanese rule from 1910-1945.

Following the end of World War II and Japan’s surrender, Japan signed a declaration agreeing to relinquish command of Korea.

Source: US Army

September 23-September 25: Thanksgiving Day

Chuseok, or Korea’s Thanksgiving Day, is a major holiday in North and South Korea.

Family members gather and take part in customs, including eating traditional rice cakes, playing folk games, and paying homage to their elders.

North Korea is believed to refer to Chuseok as “Hangawi” – its former, traditional name – in an effort to emphasise its shared culture with South Korea.

Source: Unification Ministry of South Korea

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