Why is May 5th so popular with South Korean children?

Korea celebrates its Children's Day today. This nearly century-old tradition has experienced some ups and downs throughout history.

5 mins read

When I was little, there were three days out of the year that I would always look forward to, which were Christmas, my birthday, and Children’s Day. These three days of the year were memorable for one simple reason, which was that I received gifts, and I got to eat cake. Gifts and cakes are pretty standard in many households around the world during Christmas and birthdays, but in Korea, Children’s Day is another such holiday where children can feel appreciated and respected.

Children’s Day, or 어린이 날 (eorini-nal), is celebrated annually in Korea on May 5. Its founder, Bang Chong-Hwan established the holiday in 1923 as a day to cultivate the children with a sense of independence, and put special emphasis on children receiving respect and care from the adults more than usual. This holiday was originally established because of Korea’s economic hardships at the time, and Bang believed that it was corrupting the innocence of the youth.

Already in kindergarten, the excitement of Children’s Day is awakened. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

The holiday was established during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and they often blocked the celebration of Children’s Day out of fear of revolutionary ideas being spread. However, after Korea gained independence in 1945, it began to be celebrated widely in Korea, and it was officially recognized by the Korean government in 1961, where it was established in 1975 as a national holiday with the passing of the Children’s Welfare Law. 

I stopped celebrating Children’s Day at 13, but there are families that continue celebrating their children until they reach the legal age.

Paul Moon

Today, Children’s Day is celebrated annually by families across the country. Everybody, including both parents and children, get the day completely off from work and school, so many families take the chance to go out and enjoy leisure time. This enjoyment is made easier by many establishments such as zoos, amusement parks, and movie theaters offering their tickets to children under a certain age for free or at a discounted price. Other common activities include taking picnics, visiting national parks, playing traditional Korean games, and giving children presents.

There is an interesting trend that often occurs on Children’s Day, which is called the “citizens’ game of wits”. This describes the phenomenon of parents expecting amusement parks and other entertainment facilities to be crowded during the holiday and thus refraining from going, which actually leads to not many people attending overall.

As all good things must come to an end, so does the celebration of Children’s Day for many adolescents. Most of the aforementioned entertainment facilities stop giving special treatment to youth over the age of 12, and so many in Korea consider the age of 13 the limit to the celebration of Children’s Day. I also stopped celebrating Children’s Day at 13, but there are families that continue celebrating their children until they reach the legal age.

Lots of kids today just want to do one thing: play, play, play. | Photo by Jeong hee Yoon

With recently alleviating COVID-19 restrictions, children across Korea will be able to enjoy their first somewhat unrestricted Children’s Day since the start of lockdowns. In the previous year, social gatherings at entertainment facilities had been completely banned during this time, and there were limitations on the group sizes for restaurants. All of these restrictions have been lifted as of now.

Even though many people might be unfamiliar with leisure and free time in a newly restriction-free world, it is almost certain that for Children’s Day on May 5th, sounds of joy and playing will be heard all around Korea.

Paul Moon

SEOUL | Korea

Paul is our youngest writing talent in the Magazine. He is currently a high school student residing and studying in South Korea, he contributes to school newspapers and magazines and has a passion for writing. He is looking to improve his writing and open his creativity.

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