Korean calendar – Different types used in the country

Previously, we’ve already learned how to say things related to the Korean calendar, like months in Korean, and also time. We’ve also learned so much about big Korean holidays such as Lunar New Year and Korean Thanksgiving.

A calendar with a South Korean flag on top

However, perhaps in addition to celebrating your own native holidays, you’d also like to celebrate some Korean ones each year. Or possibly, you’re simply curious to know what similar and different holidays and events they may have each year. This may, in fact, come in quite handy if you are living in Korea or planning a trip there.

You may also be simply curious about what a Korean calendar looks like and what type of vocabulary is attached to it. And why not? You never know when this information may become useful! Now, let’s look at the vocabulary related to the calendar year, and then let’s check out some important dates in South Korea.

What is “calendar” in Korean?

The basic word for “calendar” in the Korean language is 달력 (dallyeok). Sometimes you may also hear the Konglish word 캘린더 (kaellindeo) being used.

Now, different calendar systems have their own names. The calendar used in Korea is called the Dangun calendar, which in Korean is 단군 (dangun). Gregorian calendar, known to most of us in Western countries, is called 건양 (geonyang) in Korean.

Here is a quick list of vocabulary related to the Korean calendar.

Timetable, schedule 일정표 (iljeongpyo)
Event calendar 행사표 (haengsapyo)
Calendar month 역월 (yeokwol)
Calendar year 역년 (yeongnyeon)
Advent calendar 재림절 달력 (jaerimjeol dallyeok)
Julian calendar 율리우스력 (yulliuseuryeok)
Gregorian calendar 그레고리력 (geuregoriryeok),
건양 (geonyang)
Jewish calendar 유대력 (yudaeryeok)
Solar calendar 양력 (yangnyeok)
Lunar calendar 음력 (eumryeok)

What are the different types of calendars used in Korea?

Although the Gregorian calendar exists to a large extent in South Korea, it is not what is primarily followed when it comes to the country’s important holidays and similar events, notably Lunar New Year and Thanksgiving. Instead, the traditional calendar that Koreans follow is the Dangun calendar, which is a lunisolar calendar.

In other words, the Dangun calendar, followed by the Korean, combines Lunar Calendar and Solar Calendar into one. Therefore, both the Gregorian Calendar, which is a solar calendar, and a traditional lunar calendar determine the dates of important events in a year in Korea.

The Korean calendar has been quite influenced by the traditional Chinese calendar, like the traditional calendars in other Asian countries. In the same way, the traditional Chinese culture has influenced many other things on the Korean peninsula. When it comes to the calendar, this primarily shows in the form of how the dates of festivities are determined each year.

However, all of the observances and festivals come directly from Korean culture. In order to truly understand how the Korean calendar works and why the important dates are important, it’s good to know the differences between the Korean lunar calendar and the solar calendar.

Korean Lunar Calendar vs. Solar Calendar

Most of us are likely quite accustomed to and familiar with the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar. But did you know that this calendar, too, originated from a lunar calendar system?

The main difference between the two is perhaps the length and cycle of the year. In a solar calendar, the year is simply an annual cycle based on the solar year. However, in contrast, a lunar calendar follows the moon’s monthly cycles. As solar stands for the sun and lunar for the moon, it’s quite easy to remember which is which.

List of important dates/holidays observed in Korea

Whether you intend to live or travel to South Korea, it is good to know the important dates and traditional holidays observed in the country ahead of time.

January 1 – New Year’s Day

Korean name: 신정 (Sinjeong)

Like elsewhere in the world, Koreans also celebrate New Year’s Day, or the 1st day of the solar calendar, and the start of the universal calendar year.

Although it doesn’t hold as much importance as Lunar New Year, New Year’s Eve or the last day of the year is often celebrated with concerts and fireworks, while many hikes up to popular locations to welcome the first sunrise of the calendar year.

1st day of 1st lunar month – Lunar New Year

Korean name: 설날 (Seollal)

In 2022, it was celebrated on February 1, and in 2023 it will be celebrated on January 22. In other words, Lunar New Year’s exact date changes each year, as is the case when following the lunar calendar and moon cycles. During this holiday, Koreans traditionally would eat rice cake soup and honey cakes.

This is one of the two biggest national holidays in the traditional Korean calendar and has been celebrated since the year 488. It’s celebrated as a three-day holiday.

The first day is the day before the Lunar New Year, during which most of the preparations are made. The second day is the Lunar New Year when all of the important festivities are observed. You can learn all about Lunar New Year in our article dedicated to it.

March 1 – Independence Movement Day

Korean name: 삼일절 (Samiljeol)

Set according to the solar calendar, on this day; it’s common to visit locations such as Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul. It’s one of the two Independence Day-resembling holidays observed in South Korea.

During the Independence Movement Day, Koreans celebrate being Koreans and also try to learn something new about their country’s long and vibrant history. It is undoubtedly one of the year’s most important days for Koreans.

May 5 – Children’s Day

Korean name: 어린이날 (Eorininal)

Korea is one of the few countries out there with a day dedicated specifically to celebrating the innocence of children. It is shortly followed by Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day, but of the three, it is certainly the Children’s Day that is the most special.

On this day, special events are arranged in locations loved by children, such as zoos and amusement parks. In addition, they get gifts from parents and possibly other adults. Many children also consume their time playing traditional games on this day.

8th day of 4th lunar month – Buddha’s Birthday

Korean name: 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonnim Osinnal)

Events for Buddhas Birthday

The next of the national holidays following the lunar calendar is Buddha’s birthday. In 2022, the birthday was celebrated on May 8, and in 2023 it will be celebrated on May 26. The country prepares for it by showcasing lantern festivals around the cities, and you may find many streets decorated with lanterns as well.

One of the biggest ways the holiday is observed is with a parade in Seoul where hundreds of thousands of people will walk the streets holding lanterns. It is also commonplace to visit a Buddhist temple around the holiday.

연등회 (Yeondeunghoe), or the Lotus Lantern Festival, is also held during this holiday.

June 6 – Memorial Day

Korean name: 현충일 (hyeonchungil)

Memorial Day commemorates the 600,000 South Korean soldiers who died during Korean War, as well as other wars.

Each year there will be a special ceremony hosted at Seoul National Cemetery, and the Korean flag is kept at half-mast for the entirety of the day. You can learn more facts and history related to this national observance in our Memorial Day article.

July 17 – Constitution Day

Korean name: 제헌절 (jeheonjeol)

Until some law changes in 2008, Constitution Day was another holiday during which many businesses closed to give their employees an additional day off.

In Korea today, it still commemorates the day during which the National Assembly first adopted the first constitution in the country, which took place on July 17 in the year 1948. This was done mere months before South Korea and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic) officially split into separate countries.

August 15 – National Liberation Day 

Korean name: 광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)

An interesting fact is that National Liberation Day is the only holiday in the entire Korean calendar that is celebrated by both South and North Koreans. On this day, at least in South Korea, freedom is celebrated. A special commemoration service is held, for example, and the current president of the country will always attend it.

15th Day of 8th Lunar Month – Thanksgiving

Korean name: 추석 (Chuseok)

History of Chuseok

The other one of the two big Korean holidays is Thanksgiving, celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. This is also referred to as Harvest Moon Festival or 한가위 (Hangawi). In 2022, it was celebrated from September 9 to September 11. And in 2023, it will be celebrated from September 28 to September 30.

Many similar traditional activities and meals take place on Thanksgiving during Lunar New Year, and most Koreans travel to their homes on this holiday as well to spend it together with family, just like during Lunar New Year. You can read more about Chuseok on our blog.

During Chuseok, several events are being held, such as 올벼신미 (olbyeosinmi | offering earliest rice grain), 강강술래 (ganggang sullae | circle dance ).

October 3 – National Foundation Day 

Korean name: 개천절 (gaecheonjeol)

In addition to the Independence Movement Day and National Liberation Day, another similar date celebrated in South Korea is the National Foundation Day on October 3.

On this day, the founding of the Kingdom of Gosojeon is celebrated. Originally it was actually celebrated as a harvest festival, with the date determined according to the lunar calendar. However, it became a national holiday in the first half of the 20th century and got its own fixed date on the solar calendar.

The celebrations for it aren’t as major as the two family holidays, mostly commemorated through a special ceremony at Tangun’s mausoleum and by having schools and businesses close for the day. However, it is considered a very important date in the calendar year.

October 9 – Hangeul Day

Korean name: 한글날 (hangeulnal)

Celebrate Hangul Day

Shortly after National Foundation Day comes the day for celebrating the Korean alphabet, which is called Hangeul Day, Korean script was discovered in 1443, and this day serves as the yearly commemoration for it.

December 25 – Christmas

Korean name: 기독탄신일 (gidoktansinil)

SEOUL SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 31 2016 - The crowd of people that drives one of the main streets of Seoul during the holiday season

Just like elsewhere in the world, December 25 marks Christmas in South Korea as well. However, it is not as big of a holiday as it is in Western countries and other countries where Christianity is the main religion.

Of course, in South Korea, it is celebrated with Christmas songs, carols, lights, and decorations everywhere, and for churchgoers, there are special masses held. But rather than being a day where every shop closes down and families gather together, Koreans tend to spend it outdoors with their friends or significant others.

Other holidays and national observances

Besides the above-mentioned dates, which are the most important ones in a year, a host of other holidays and observances are also celebrated. Here is a few of them:

  • February 5 (2023, 15th day of 1st lunar month) – Great Full Moon Festival, Daeboreum (대보름)
  • February 14 – Valentine’s Day, 발렌타인 데이 (ballentain dei)
  • May 8 – Parents’ Day, 어버이 날 (eobeoi nal)
  • May 15 – Teacher’s Day, 스승의 날 (seuseungui nal)
  • July 17 – Constitution Day, 제헌절 (jeheonjeol)
  • October 31 – Halloween, 할로윈 (hallowin)

Some memorial services and ancestral services are also observed using the lunar calendar. With Korea’s rich culture, different events are also held depending on the holiday, just as composing poetry, the first full moon greeting (during Daeboreum), leg fighting, and other fun activities.

For the events listed, some of the food that Koreans would prepare are rice cake, taro soup, mugwort soup, herring soup, rice dumplings, colored noodles, mixed rice, honey citron tea, traditional biscuits, wheat pancake, rice wine, red beans, and many more. This depends on the specific festival that is celebrated.

Wrap Up

And just like this, you know all this important information about the Korean calendar and the traditional festivals and dates in it! Not to mention, you even learned some Korean vocabulary along the way! If you want to greet your friends during any of the Korean holidays listed above, you might need to brush up on your knowledge of Korean greetings. And if you’d like to know further about the lunar calendar, check out our article on Korean Zodiac.

Also, let us know in the comments below if you celebrate many similar holidays in your home country!

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