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Hyunchungil 현충일 Memorial Day

In South Korea, Remembrance Day alluded to as Hyunchungil (현충일) is viewed as a "red day" or public occasion. A 'red day' implies that salaried representatives have a taken care of day for Commemoration Day, June 6. It was declared a public holiday by the Korean Government on April 19, 1956. (At the point when this day lands toward the end of the week, Koreans celebrate on a substitute day like Friday or Monday). Likewise, red days are regularly days off rest, reflection, and recognition.


- The origins of Korean Memorial Day can be traced back to the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-1953). The war left a profound impact on the country, resulting in significant loss of life and highlighting the need to formally honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Prior to the Korean War, Korea had various traditions to honor those who passed away, but the devastating effects of the war emphasized the need for a formal national remembrance.


- The day was officially established in 1956 by the South Korean government as a way to commemorate soldiers, policemen, and civilians who died in service to their country. The legislative process included significant debates and contributions from key figures dedicated to preserving the memory of those lost.


- Originally called "Memorial Day" under the "Regulations on Memorial Day" established on April 25, 1956, the observance was incorporated into the revised "Regulations on Various Anniversaries" in 1982 (Presidential Decree). The specific regulations concerning Memorial Day were abolished on January 2, 2012.


Post-war reconstruction saw Memorial Day playing a vital role in national morale and unity, providing a sense of purpose and reflection for a nation rebuilding from the ashes of conflict.


For a better understanding, some schools and other institutions often conduct educational programs and activities to teach younger generations about the significance of the day and the sacrifices made by their forebears. How? By encouraging students to read war stories to feel and comprehend Korean struggles and sacrifices.


One book I would recommend is “전쟁 같은 맛” by Grace M. Cho. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue and evolve for the rest of her life.


Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, "Tastes Like War" is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. In her mother’s final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parents' childhoods in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother’s multiple voices at the table. Through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her but also the things that kept her alive.

"Tastes Like War" also embraces reading about the Korean War, providing a deeper understanding of the historical context that shaped her mother's life. By exploring the impact of the Korean War on her family's history, Cho weaves a narrative that connects personal experiences with broader historical events, highlighting the enduring effects of war on identity, memory, and mental health. This poignant memoir offers readers a profound look into the intersections of food, history, and healing within the Korean American experience. [Image source] : Tastes Like War: Grace M. Cho in conversation


Main Ceremonies and Observances


The main dedication service happens at Seoul Public Burial ground or Daejeon Public Graveyard every year. On June 6 at 10 a.m., an alarm rings all over Korea. Koreans notice a moment of quietness to respect the fallen legends. The Korean banner is normally raised to half-staff and the dedication melody, "Tune of Remembrance Day" (현충일 노래), is played or sung. Likewise, vehicles and individuals on the roads frequently stop as of now to offer their appreciation too.


During Dedication Day, Koreans frequently go to remembrance functions or occasions to honor the day. Besides, numerous Koreans visit war dedications or exhibition halls the nation over. In addition, relatives and government authorities lay blossoms or wreaths on the graves of fallen warriors. Organizations frequently show the Korean public banner on their front entryways during the long stretch of June to respect the fallen.


What to do on 현충일?

On this day, many people visit national cemeteries and war memorials to pay their respects by laying flowers and offering prayers. It's customary to observe a moment of silence at 10 AM to honor the fallen. Participating in or attending commemorative ceremonies and events organized by the government or local communities is another way to show respect and remembrance.


Reflecting on the contributions of those who served and educating others about the history and significance of the day helps keep their memory alive. Engaging in community activities that honor veterans and promote a sense of unity and patriotism is also meaningful. Additionally, supporting the families of fallen soldiers and showing appreciation to living veterans through acts of kindness and support can help foster a spirit of gratitude and solidarity. Displaying the national flag at homes and public buildings is a widespread practice to signify respect and national pride. By doing these things, we can collectively honor the sacrifices made for the nation and strive for a peaceful and prosperous South Korea.


Modern Celebrations and Media


“Remembrance Day; "day of loyalty"

Remembrance Day, meaning "day of loyalty," is marked by various broadcasts on terrestrial television and general channels featuring war movies and dramas about North and South Korea, as well as foreign war films. Notably, in 2016, KBS 2TV aired a special episode of the Battle of Yeonpyeong, while KBS 1TV aired R2B: Return to the Base, and EBS 1TV aired military movies like Battle of the High Ground and Flying the Taeguk Flag. Until the early 1990s, major terrestrial entertainment was canceled on this day, replaced by special films and documentaries. Nowadays, regular entertainment shows generally continue, with special movies usually airing in the afternoon.


Students in their second year of junior high and above often cannot take a proper rest on Memorial Day due to academic schedules. Universities hold final exams soon after, and final classes and exams for middle and high school students are about 3-4 weeks away. Performance evaluations and important mock assessments for SAT students also occur around this time, leading to crowded libraries and reading rooms. Additionally, the provincial level 9 civil service exam is held around Memorial Day.


Every year, a memorial ceremony is held at either the Seoul National Memorial Center or the Daejeon National Memorial Center, attended by the President of South Korea and other officials. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, typically attends to pay respects unless prevented by an overseas trip or other significant reasons. If the ceremony is in Seoul, Daejeon holds a similar event under local supervision, and vice versa.


Regional and International Observances

Local governments also organize events at various memorial sites, such as the National Tiger Park, Soonkuk Thermal Park, and regional memorial towers, where certificates of national merit are conferred to surviving veterans and their families. Additionally, Korean communities abroad often hold their own ceremonies, reflecting on the shared history and honoring the sacrifices of their forebears.


Education and Youth Engagement

Some schools and other institutions often conduct educational programs and activities to teach younger generations about the significance of the day and the sacrifices made by their forebears. By encouraging students to read war stories, they can better comprehend Korean struggles and sacrifices.


Veterans’ Welfare and Public Awareness 

Discussing the impact of Memorial Day on veterans’ welfare, the role of the government, and NGOs in supporting veterans and their families is crucial. Memorial Day influences public awareness and education about the Korean War and other conflicts, ensuring that the sacrifices of the past are not forgotten.


Economic Impact

The economic impact of Memorial Day includes effects on tourism, business closures, and consumer spending. The holiday also boosts tourism as people visit cemeteries, memorials, and museums, contributing to the local economy.


How Koreans Cope? 

In the era of artificial intelligence, Memorial Day has taken on greater significance. As AI reshapes numerous facets of our lives, many individuals find themselves out of work or facing challenges. Memorial Day provides an opportunity to offer comfort to these people and to express our gratitude for their sacrifices.


This day is traditionally dedicated to remembering the heroes who lost their lives during the Korean War. Now, it also serves to support those struggling in the age of AI. We honor the sacrifices of those who have served our country and renew our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous South Korea.


AI is revolutionizing fields such as healthcare, education, manufacturing, and transportation, enhancing convenience and abundance in our daily lives. However, this technological progress comes with drawbacks, including job displacement. As AI advances, many individuals are experiencing job loss and related hardships.


On Memorial Day, we extend our compassion to these affected individuals and recognize their sacrifices. It is a time to offer solace to those facing difficulties brought about by the rise of AI and to express our deep appreciation for the contributions of those dedicated to our nation. Together, we strive for a future that is both peaceful and prosperous for all.



In conclusion, Hyunchungil (현충일) or Memorial Day in South Korea stands as a profound testament to the nation's enduring respect and gratitude for those who sacrificed their lives for the country. This day, steeped in history and solemnity, transcends mere remembrance; it serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience and unity that define the Korean spirit.


The historical context, dating back to the aftermath of the Korean War, underscores the immense loss and the subsequent national commitment to honor fallen heroes. The meticulous legislative process that established this day reflects the importance of institutionalizing memory, ensuring that the sacrifices of soldiers, policemen, and civilians are never forgotten. This formal recognition is vital, as it anchors the nation's collective memory and fortifies its resolve to build a future worthy of such sacrifices.


Educational initiatives that engage the youth in understanding the historical significance of Hyunchungil are crucial. By fostering a deep sense of connection to the past, these programs help cultivate a generation that values peace and unity. Books like Grace M. Cho's "Tastes Like War" serve as powerful tools, weaving personal narratives with broader historical contexts to provide a nuanced understanding of the Korean experience. Such stories are essential in bridging the gap between generations and ensuring that the lessons of history remain relevant.


The modern observances of Hyunchungil, characterized by moments of silence, commemorative ceremonies, and the display of the national flag, symbolize national unity and respect. The media's role in broadcasting war films and documentaries further embeds this day in the national consciousness, ensuring widespread participation in the act of remembrance.


However, the significance of Hyunchungil extends beyond historical commemoration. In an era dominated by artificial intelligence and rapid technological advancements, this day also invites us to reflect on contemporary challenges. The job displacement and societal shifts brought about by AI advancements echo the sacrifices of the past, as many individuals today find themselves navigating new forms of struggle. Memorial Day, thus, evolves into a day of empathy and solidarity, where the nation extends its compassion to those affected by these modern upheavals.


The economic impact of Hyunchungil, through increased tourism and consumer activities, highlights the holiday's role in sustaining local economies. This economic dimension, coupled with the social and educational aspects, underscores the multifaceted significance of this day.


In honoring the past and addressing present challenges, Hyunchungil embodies the spirit of resilience and unity. It is a day that calls for reflection on the sacrifices made, recognition of the ongoing struggles, and a collective commitment to a future defined by peace and prosperity. As we observe this day, let us renew our dedication to the principles of unity, remembrance, and compassion, ensuring that the legacy of our fallen heroes continues to inspire and guide us. 


Written by: Hinda M, Khadija N, Nikita Y

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