Background:

South Korea's official name is Taihan-Min-quk (tie-HAHN min-GUK), or the Republic of Korea. More than forty million people live in South Korea, most of them descendants of the tribes that came to the Korean Peninsula thousands of years ago. South Korea is about thirty-eight hundred square miles, about the size of Virginia. Korea is a mountainous land and known by its people as Choson, the "Land of the Morning Calm," because of the beautiful misty mornings in the mountains.

Education is highly valued by Koreans. All South Korean children attend the first through sixth grade, and ninety percent attend a three-year-long high school. South Korea has worked hard to build a strong educational system since the Korean War. Free education from first grade to high school are provided by the government. The government also supports many college students and airs educational television.

The Korean people celebrate many holidays. The Korean calendar is based on lunar months, and there is at least one major celebration during each moon. Traditional clothing and food are a part of every Korean celebration. Many Korean celebrations honor ancestors, elders, and religious figures.

Children's Day (orini nal) is a South Korean national holiday celebrated on May 5. It was founded by the Korean children's writer Pang Chong-hwan in 1923 as a way to instill in the children a sense of independence and national pride. Children's Day highlights the dignity of children and their need for love, care, and respect. It is also a day to honor adults that have contributed to improving the lives of children.

Although Children's Day was founded in 1923, a May fifth holiday was celebrated by Koreans more than five hundred years ago. Suri-day or dano day, meaning the first five days, was one of the four great Korean national holidays. People dressed in new clothes and set out food to worship their ancestors. Swinging and ssireum wrestling were some of the activities enjoyed on this day. Many of the suri-day activities are also parts of other Korean celebrations, but this holiday is no longer celebrated in Korea.

Children of all ages are celebrated during Children's Day and the entire community is involved in the festivity. Many cities have parades and public activities and museums, zoos, amusement parks, and movie theaters offer free admission to children. Traditional games, such as yut are played. Gifts are given to children from their parents and from stores that the children visit during Children's Day.

Tae kwon do demonstrations are often part of the Children's Day activities. Tae kwon do is a form of self defense that originated in Korea more than two thousand years ago and is a commonly taught martial art in the United States. It involves more sharp, quick kicking than the Japanese style karate, and was showcased for the world in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Tae kwon do is both a physical and mental discipline. Students studying tae kwon do often will practice more than an hour each day.

Traditional foods are an important part of every Korean celebration. Rice is eaten with all meals in Korea. Kimchi, which is pickled cabbage and strong spices and pulgolgi, which is thinly sliced broiled beef that is eaten with spicy sauces are a large part of the Korean diet. Fish, shellfish, seaweed, and other products of the ocean are prepared in many different ways to serve on Korean tables.

Korean Americans are one of the fastest-growing Asian groups in the United States. Although Children's Day is not a national holiday in the U.S., it is celebrated within Korean Families on May 5. Korean American communities celebrate with performances, special foods, and activities, and Korean cultural schools hold day-long programs to celebrate children.

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References:

Knowlton, M., Sachner, M., & Tolan, S. (1987). Children of the World: South Korea. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens

Publishing.

Johnston, R. (1971). Getting to Know the Two Koreas. New Your, NY: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc.

Sang-su, C. (1983). Annual Customs of Korea. Seoul, Korea: Seomun-dang Publishing Company.

Suyenaga, R. (1992). Multicultural Celebrations: Korean Children's Day. Ohio: Modern Curriculum Press.