An Exploration of Korean Festivals

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Korean culture is full of weird and wonderful sights, sounds and smells. Even in modern times we're quite unfamiliar with Korean festivals in the West, which is an incredible shame given the amazing experience some of these events can be. Below you will find all the information you could want to know about some of Korea's most important festivals and how you can get involved!

Seollal (Korean New Year)

February

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Seollal is what Koreans call the Lunar New Year. In the West you may have heard of this day referred to as Chinese New year but in fact it is simply a celebration of the start of the Lunar calendar and is celebrated differently in many Asian countries including China and Korea. It occurs on the second new moon after the Winter solstice.

As with the Chinese, this festival is probably the biggest and most widely celebrated in the Korean calendar with a national holiday and festivities occurring across the entire country. These festivities include performing ancestral rites and paying respect to those generations that have gone before us as well as looking to the future and celebrating the coming of a new spring.

The bulk of the celebrations happen in a 3 day period either side of New Years Day. During this time many Koreans choose to go back to their home towns where you will see them eating traditional food and dressing in traditional clothes such as the Hanbok. Family members also give each other money of this day to spend on building a happy year ahead!

Gwangju Kimchi Festival

October

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Anyone with an interest in Korean culture will surely have heard of Kimchi! This fermented vegetable side dish can be made from all number of vegetables and is often seasoned with garlic, chilli or ginger. The process of making kimchi is referred to as kimjang and is such and important part of Korean culture, it's actually listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

As further evidence of kimchi's cultural relevance, the Gwangju Kimchi Festival was created to celebrate this dish and give visitors a chance to try some of the MANY different types available. Attendants can attend kimchi related events, watch kimchi related performances and of course, buy kimchi!

Originally hosted in the early 90s in a town called "Kimchi", located in Gwangju, this festival has now expanded to every city in Korea and even some abroad with France, Russia, England and Australia all holding their own versions of the event. Suffice to say, if you love kimchi you should definitely check this one out!

Jeju Fire Festival

February / March

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The Jeju fire festival is one of the largest in Korea and is held over 3 days and nights, in which the beautiful island of Jeju is literally set alight. This may seem extreme but it dates back to Jeju's farming roots and the tradition of burning old grass to get rid of vermin before starting a new farming season. It its essence, the fire festival is a ritual designed to promote a good harvest and a healthy and happy life.

 

In and amongst the fires that rage over the island during this time, visitors are able to watch from specially erected tents and viewing platforms with a wealth of activities available from folk markets to musical performances and fire dancing. 

There is no way to truly describe the sight of seeing this much fire blazing through a landscape in a controlled manner so we recommend attending so you can see for yourself! If this isn't possible for you right now, the below video might help to give you some idea :)

Boryeong Mud Festival

July

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The Boryeong Mud Festival was established in 1998 and takes place in a town around 200km south of Seoul. Boryeong is famous for its mud flats, which is considered rich is minerals and is often used to manufacture anti-ageing cosmetics that are popular across the country. 

In fact the festival was originally created as an attempt to market these cosmetics to a wider audience by promoting activities that involve mud including mud pools, mud slides and even mu skiing competitions. The efforts were so successful that the festival now attracts over 3 million visitors annually!

The events are especially popular with Korea's Western population who enjoy attending events such as mud wrestling along with being able to shop at the surrounding market places as well as enjoying live music and entertainment. One thing is for sure, if you plan on attending this unique event, you will definitely need to bring a towel!

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

January

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The Sancheoneo Ice Festival attracts over 1 million visitors each year to attend events that relate to snow and ice. This is even more impressive when you consider the entire Hwacheon region of Korea on has a population of around 24 thousand.

 

While there are a wide variety of activities to choose from, snowman building competitions for example, the festival was actually designed to celebrate ice fishing and the main events are traditional ice fishing and bare hand ice fishing. Sancheoneo are actually a type of fish that can only live in the clearest of waters, thus highlighting the quality of nature in the region of Korea.

Since the Hwacheon region of Korea snows for much of the year, it's never been called off for lack of snow and conditions are often perfect for catching these fish and enjoying the festivities with friends and family.

Now you understand everything you need to know about Korean festivals, why not try to improve your Korean language skills? 

We offer group and private courses for all levels. You can take these courses either online or face to face at our London offices where you will meet lots of other Korean language learners!