From Kdramas and Kpop Idols of Hallywu to the kimchi and soju of Korean cuisine, what is known as “the Korean wave” has washed over the entire world. As interest in tourism to South Korea grows in the West, so also does awareness of the interesting cultural festivals held all year long. Many different seasons and occasions are centered on vibrant celebrations, so pack your bags and take a look at our list of fascinating South Korean festivals to help you schedule your trip.
The Lunar New Year’s Day (Seollal)
Koreans celebrate their New Year’s Day in an epic three-day-long festival, generally thought of as the most important holiday of the year. The exact date varies since the Korean New Year falls on the day of the second new moon after winter solstice. Many families host overseas relatives and guests, and everyone spends a lot of money on costly gifts and food. Much of the celebration is centered on dressing in traditional clothing and observing respect to elders, but the food and family cheer makes this festival worth observing. Kids love this holiday, since their relatives give them money in envelopes as gifts. Particular fun can be had in burning the hand built “moon houses” of firewood and branches, symbolizing warding off evil spirits for the coming year. You can make a wish as the bonfire burns so that it will come true in the next year.
Playplanet Activities: Traditional Chuseok Food Cooking with Korean Mom
Greater Full Moon (Daeboreum)
An important part of South Korean culture is building tight knit, robust communities, so the Greater Full Moon festival includes playing games with neighbors to strengthen community bonds. The date of the moon festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first month of the year by the lunar calendar. Rituals are performed for good harvest, like burning the dried grass on the hills between rice fields while children spin cans of charcoal to sprinkle ash in the rice to kill off worms and bugs. Traditional food and drink play a big part in this holiday, like a five grain dish called ogokbap, which is eaten with wine. This holiday may be fun for humans, but it is the custom not to give any food to dogs because it was believed that they would contract gadflies and become ill in the summer if they ate food on this holiday.
Boryeong Mud Festival (Boryeong meodeu chukje)
Perhaps the most interesting festival on our list is the relatively new Boryeong Mud Festival held since 1998 in the Daecheon beach area. Known for its cosmetic and skin benefits, mud from the Boryeong flats is trucked in and participants can mud wrestle, slide in the mud, and handcraft mud soap. Bring a bathing suit and soak up the vitamins and minerals said to be packed in the Boreyong mud, and since the festival is held in mid-July, the mud also physically blocks skin from sun damage. It is a festival celebrating beauty and health, so masseurs, acupuncturists and clinicians are onsite and ready to pamper you. The festival closes with a huge fireworks display with live music and dancing, and as always at Korean celebrations, food and drink is shared. Lockers and shower are made available onsite for all participants just in case you were wondering.
Buddha’s Birthday (Bucheonim osin na)
Yet another lunar calendar day festival, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated by temples all over Asia, where much of the population practices Buddhism. In China and Korea, the day of Buddha’s birth falls on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, during spring. The temples celebrate by lighting thousands of lotus lamps that often spill out from the buildings onto the street, making a beautifully lit path as you walk from temple to temple. Many temple practitioners offer visitors free meals and tea. The typical meal is sanchae bibimbap, which is a large bowl of rice and vegetables, often including eggs.
Used to boost cultural awareness and tourism, lantern festivals are held in major cities like Seoul and Jinju. Lanterns and other twinkling lights are used to decorate public spaces in the crisp fall months, and visitors and residents are treated to a stunning sight as lanterns are floated down rivers and canals. Seoul tends to shift focus every year to different aspects of Korean culture, but the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival commemorates the soldiers who died in the Imjin war of the 1500s.
Whatever season you travel to South Korea, you can find public and private celebrations that will enrich your trip and your knowledge of Korean culture. You can taste some of the delicious, healthy, and spicy food Korea is known for, and participate in traditions that are both recent and thousands of years old. Just remember to pack a camera, and in the case of the Mud Festival, some old clothes. These fascinating South Korean Festivals are guaranteed to make lasting travel memories for you and your traveling companions.
About writer: This article was written by Sam Socorro from Steam Shower Store. She has over 10 years’ experience in writing health related topics and specializes in the health benefits of saunas and hydrotherapy.