Let's talk about June and how it's dedicated to veterans and patriots in Korea. This started way back in 1954, and on April 19, 1956, Korea declared June 6 as Memorial Day to honour the soldiers who bravely died for their country. In Korean, this day is called "현충일" (hyunchung-il). "현충" (hyunchung) means praising loyal martyrs, and "일" (il) means day. Basically, it’s a day when everyone gets some well-deserved time off and takes a moment to remember the sacrifices made by the soldiers for their nation.
Now, you might be wondering why June 6th was chosen as Memorial Day. Well, in Korea, the year is divided into 24 seasons or periods, and June 6th marks the start of the 9th season/period. Traditionally, Koreans used to offer various sacrifices on this day, so the government chose this day as Korean Memorial Day too. The Korean War had a devastating impact on the Korean Peninsula, splitting it into two countries 🥺 It didn't take long after the war ended to establish this day as a way to commemorate the brave soldiers who made sacrifices during that time. The Battle of Cheongsanri also holds great significance for the Korean nation, so the sacrifices made in that battle are remembered on this day as well!
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On June 6th each year, a memorial ceremony takes place at the Seoul National Ceremony. It's a solemn gathering where the South Korean president, government officials, bereaved families, and citizens come together to pay their respects to the fallen heroes. It's not just Seoul that holds this official ceremony; many other cities and districts have their own memorial ceremonies too. However, the most significant ones occur at Seoul National Cemetery and Daejeon National Cemetery.
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This ceremony starts at 10 am, and a siren rings across the entire country while the South Korean flag is raised to half-staff as a symbol of remembrance and mourning. During the siren, everyone observes a minute of silence in honour of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the war. Even cars and people on the streets stop for that moment to show their respect and pray for the fallen soldiers. They also play the Memorial Day Song (현충일 노래) during the ceremony, and it's quite a moving sight for the spectators. In recent years, famous actresses like Kim Hye Soo, Han Jimin, and Jeon Mido have recited letters at the memorial ceremonies, adding a personal touch to the event. Businesses and households also proudly display the South Korean flag on their front doors throughout June as a way to show respect and honour the fallen soldiers.
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Before Memorial Day arrives, schools organise various activities and events related to this day of remembrance. Students get creative by drawing pictures of the soldiers who fought during the Korean War or writing heartfelt letters to the soldiers currently defending the DMZ (the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). It's a way for them to express gratitude and discuss the significance of the day, as well as the impact that the brave soldiers' sacrifices have had on the nation and its history.
Korea has a rich and impactful war history that is an integral part of the nation's identity. It's no wonder that hyungchungil holds such a special place in the hearts of Koreans, as it's a day dedicated to honouring the courageous soldiers who selflessly fought for their country. While both hyungchungil and Anzac Day share the purpose of remembering and honouring their soldiers, the historical contexts, ceremonial traditions and symbolic elements differ, which reflects the unique experiences and sacrifices of each nation’s soldiers. Even though this day has just passed and is not commemorated here in New Zealand, it’s still super important for us to remember how significant it is and the sacrifices those soldiers made for Korea.