Every October 3rd, South Korea celebrates Korean National Foundation Day or Gaecheonjeol (개천절). From its direct translation of "The Day the Sky Opened," the public holiday is meant to celebrate the day the Korean peninsula came to be–its creation and founding story, to be precise.
From the myth that started it all, its celebrations, all the way to the food being prepared and eaten on that day, we at The Daebak Company prepared a run-down for people who may either not know what the day is about or just are unsure of what to expect on October 3.
History of Korean National Foundation Day: The Dangun Myth
The creation story of the Korean peninsula dates all the way back to the Gojoseon period and before the three kingdoms of Korea existed. Gojoseon translates to "Old Joseon" as it pertains to the time before the Joseon dynasty.
This story starts with Hwanung, the son of the Lord of Heaven, and his father, Hwanin. Hwanung wished to live on earth, so his father allowed him and three thousand followers to build a city on Baekdusan or Baekdu Mountain, a mountain straddling the North Korea-China border. It is said that this mountain was where Hwanung descended from heaven; the lake at its summit is named the "heavenly lake" for this reason.
While on the mountain, Hwanung met a bear and a tiger who asked to be transformed into a human. With this, they were tasked to spend one hundred days in a cave, only eating garlic and mugwort, to prove they were worthy of becoming human. The tiger failed the task and gave up after 20 days, while the bear managed to complete it.
The bear was turned into a woman and later married to Hwanung. She then gave birth to their son Dangun (단군), who became the first king of Korea. The king established Pyeongyang as the capital of the kingdom, then went on to name his kingdom Joseon or Choson, which is translated to “Land of the Morning Calm.”
It is said that the founding of the Korean peninsula happened on the third day of the 10th lunar month in 2333 B.C.E. The date was later changed to the third of October for modern convenience.
Festivities, Celebrations, and Ceremonies
Korean Foundation Day is a "Red Day," meaning no school or work can accommodate the festivities. From watching a fireworks display to hiking, even just burning sandalwood incense to honor Dangun, there are many things to do on October 3.
But before all the fun activities to honor the birth of Korea, the festivities start with an official ceremony to open the day. The ceremony is held at the Sejeong Performing Arts Center, where the South Korean prime minister announces how long they have been celebrating the holiday, addresses other public officials and citizens in a speech, and then talks about the overarching theme of the day.
One of the ways to celebrate the Korean National Foundation is to watch the fireworks display that happens around the country. In Seoul, the most popular location to see the event is at the Yeouido Han River Park.
To accommodate the large crowds on that day, the Yeouinaru Subway Station might be closed–so you need to find other ways to make it to the park extra early to get a good spot. But if you can't seem to get a good place along the river or just don't want to be stuck in the crowd, you can always view it from the top of Namsan Tower.
There are a few places to go hiking to honor Dangun. The first place you could hike up would be Baekdu Mountain, but because it borders China and North Korea, you would need to go to China to climb it.
The closest alternative to climbing Baekdu would be to visit Halla Mountain on Jeju Island. Both mountains are volcanoes with crater lakes at the summit. People have said that it has the same atmosphere as Baekdu mountain.
If you want somewhere close to Seoul, Manisan Mountain or simply Mount Mani is an excellent place to visit. The Chamseongdan Altar, one of the shrines dedicated to Dangun, is situated at the summit. It is said this altar was built by the king himself and is where he often offered sacrifices to the heavens.
Need snacks while you go on a hiking trip? Check out our Jeju Island collection and see some of our snack selections here:
Street Parades and Performances
Not a fan of fireworks or hiking up mountains? That's okay!
There are parades of smiling Danguns in the streets of South Korea. The Sejong Center for Performing Arts in Seoul also holds performances showing Korean traditional music, dances, and Taekwondo demonstrations.
To honor the Korean culture, traditional Hansik (Korean cuisine) is served in restaurants and eaten by families. Food stalls and restaurants around the country will offer dishes like samgyeopsal (Korean barbecue) and jeonghwa (roasted butter squid). Japchae is the most popular dish on October 3 as it is the usual dish being served in celebrations.
Another Hansik associated with Korean Foundation Day is seolleongtang, or ox bone soup. According to a legend, a 15th-century king invented the soup to feed a large crowd gathered to celebrate Gaecheonjeol.
The Daebak Company has you covered for all things food on October 3. Check out our selections here:
With K-Pop and K-Drama on the rise around the world, it’s no surprise that people are now taking an interest in Korean culture as well. It’s important to dive into the country’s history to get a sense of how our favorites–whether it be music, arts, or even media–came to be.
This year's Foundation Day is not just a commemoration of the past but also a testament to the enduring strength and unity of the Korean people. Here's looking forward to this year's celebrations, hoping they will continue to open the sky and our hearts to the magic of Korea.
Are you excited for October 3? What will you be doing on Korean National Foundation Day?
Does South Korea have an independence day?
The National Liberation Day of Korea is celebrated, by both North and South Korea, on the 15th of August annually. This public holiday commemorates Korea’s liberation from the 35-year Japanese colonial rule.
What does “Dangun” mean?
“Dangun” translates to “Sandalwood King.” This has come to be because of how his mother, the bear that became a human, prayed by a sandalwood tree to become a mother. It’s the reason why sandalwood is so important during the Korean Foundation Day.
What is a “Red Day” and what does it mean in South Korea?
A “Red Day” (공휴일) is a public holiday–and there are 12 of these (including National Liberation Day, Korean Foundation Day, Seollal, and Chuseok). On these public holidays, schools are closed, banks are closed, and employees, no matter where they work, have paid day-offs.