If you are anything like me, your first thought about a public holiday is probably: “yippee no work!” August 15, brings the Korean holiday of Gwangbokjeol (광복) and many work places will be closed, including the U.S. Embassy. However, there’s more to the holiday than just a day of no work.
광복 / Gwangbokjeol was officially designated as a public holiday on October 1, 1949. On this date in 1945 Japan surrendered to the Allied forces during World War II, thus ending the Japanese occupation of Korea. Three years later on October 1, 1948, the Republic of Korea was officially established. On Gwangbokjeol, all buildings and homes are encouraged to display the national flag, Taegukki, and most public museums and places are open free of charge to the descendents of independence activists. The official Gwangbokjeol song is sung at official ceremonies and the government also traditionally issues special pardons on this day.
Whether you’re living in Korea or just passing through as a tourist, it’s important to understand a little about the country’s history to better appreciate the perspectives and culture of Koreans. For example, you may be wondering why any match between Japan and Korea in the current London Olympics creates such an uproar. Learning more about Korean history might shed a little light on the historic rivalry. I think you’ll also find that Koreans will appreciate your understanding and enjoy discussing their history with you. So on the upcoming holiday, enjoy the day off work, but also take a moment to learn a little bit about Korean history and what it means to the Koreans you’re living amongst.
You can find more information about Korea in these background notes.