Today in America, many are celebrating Cinco de Mayo. On the other side of the world, however, Koreans are celebrating a different holiday: Children’s Day. On this day, youths have the day off from school, and adults have the day off from work in order to celebrate Children’s Day. This is a special day for families, and it has been recognized as an official holiday in Korea for decades. But how did this holiday start, and why?
Though some variations of Children’s Day are celebrated in other countries on different days, the history of this Korean holiday began with students and social leaders who were inspired by the March 1st Independence Movement. Passionate about educating the future children of Korea, they gathered in a city called Jinju to encourage adults to teach children about the state of Korea as a territory of Japan.
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In 1923, several groups of Korean students studying in Tokyo agreed to designate May 1st as Children's Day (then known as Boys’ Day); the date later changed because it coincided with Labor Day in Korea. An important figure who helped spearhead this action was Bang Jeong-hwan, also known as “the father of Korean children’s literature.” During this time, Bang started the children’s literary magazine Eorini (어린이, meaning “children”), where he would share songs, stories, and plays made for youths. These stories often touched on how shouldering economic difficulties can burden children and cause them to lose their innocence.
While Korea was under the control of Japan, it was difficult for Koreans to congregate and celebrate Children’s Day. After Korea achieved independence in 1945, however, the movement to support children’s rights and celebrate their lives started again. As a result of this movement, the children’s welfare law in the constitution officially designated May 5 as Children’s Day in 1961. Nine years later, in 1970, Children’s Day officially became a public holiday in Korea.
Today, Korean parents celebrate Children’s Day by taking their children on special outings. There is no shortage of things for them to do - it’s common for movie theaters, amusement parks, and zoos to offer free admission to children on this day, giving families an opportunity to make the most of this holiday every year!