현충일 or Memorial Day
On June 6, we celebrate 현충일 or Memorial Day in Korea. It is a national non-working holiday to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country.
It has been a tradition in my husband’s family to visit 국립서울현충원 or the Seoul National Cemetery, located in Dongjak-gu, every year to visit a grand uncle who died during the Korean War. The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and it lasted three years until July 27, 1953 when a ceasefire was signed.
The Seoul National Cemetery is accessible by subway lines 4 and 9 (Dongjak Station). We usually go there by car on the weekend before June 6th, to avoid the crowd. It is quite difficult to find parking space even on the days before the holiday.
We visited the National Cemetery last Sunday with my son and parents-in-law. When we got there, we explained to our pre-schooler the importance of the holiday. When we told him that the people in the cemetery were soldiers, his face turned really serious and quiet. It’s because he wants to be a soldier! Later on, we asked if he still dreams to be a soldier and he said yes.
On June 6th, a ceremony is held at the National Cemetery with no less than the President in attendance. Every year, the 현충일 노래 or Memorial Day Song is played.
The headstones at the cemetery are well-maintained. The names of the fallen are engraved on the stones. Flowers and the Korean national flag are placed on the sides. We brought a bottle of “makgeolli” or Korean traditional wine, rice cake and apples as “offering” for our grand uncle.
I have been to Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. The Seoul National Cemetery is not as huge but in both places, heroes are buried. Korean presidents are also buried in the National Cemetery including Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae Jung. We didn’t go to their burial place though as most of the roads are one-way only.
The Korean Memorial Day is not only a holiday to thank the Koreans who served this country, but also the foreign soldiers who fought during the Korean War.