The North Korean calender is pegged not to the birth of Christ but rather to the birth of Kim Il Sung. In 1997, Pyongyang officially replaced the Gregorian calendar with a Juche calendar that starts with year 0 as 1912, the year of Kim Il Sung’s birth.

Chusok, the main Korean holiday, is still celebrated in North Korea. All traditional Korean holidays were banned in 1953 and replaced by Socialist celebrations. The celebration of Chusok, the Lunar year and Hansik returned in 1972 and were designated as "rest days" in 1988.

Park Ju-Hee wrote in New Focus International: “Public holidays are frequent in North Korea – with one held almost every month as part of the regime’s propaganda agenda. People often take the day off work to participate in local celebrations. Those who do not take part risk falling under the suspicion of the authorities.” [Source: Park Ju-Hee, New Focus International, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, September 15, 2016]

National Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1); Kim Jong Il’s Birthday (February 16– 17); International Women’s Day (March 8); Day of the Sun (Kim Il Sung’s Birthday; April 15– 16); Armed Forces Day (April 25); International Workers’ Day (May 1); Fatherland Liberation War Victory Day (July 27); National Liberation Day (August 15); Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Founding Day (September 9); Korean Workers’ Party Founding Day (October 10); and Constitution Day (December 27). Some of these celebrations are carried out with a Soviet-style military parade, while others are commemorated with art festivals and official congregations in local and central government units. [Source: Library of Congress; July 2007**]

Also celebrated are Lunar New Year’s Day (variable date in January or February, Sollal, Chinese New Year); Surinal (spring festival; variable date in April or May; formerly called Tano or Dano); and Han’gawi (autumn festival; September 28–30, formerly called Ch’usok).

Recognized to some degree and celebrated in some places: Anti-Japanese Uprising Day (March 1); Taeborum (variable February-March, Lantern Festival); Buddha's Birthday (variable, late April, early May); Children's Day (June 1); Young Pioneers of Korea Day (June 6); Kwangju Student Uprising Day (November 3); October Revolution Day (November 7).

North Korean Time

In North Korea, months and days are tracked according to the Gregorian calendar, but the year is tracked by the Juche calendar. Instead of marking year 1 according to the birth of Jesus Christ, North Korea starts its calendar from the birth of the founder and Eternal President of the country Kim Il Sung, who was born April 15, 1912 (on the Gregorian calendar). Therefore, the Juche New Year occurs on April 15 each year. It is called the “Day of the Sun” and is by far the largest holiday celebration of the year. [Source: Uri Tours, December 12, 2016]

In 1997, Pyongyang officially replaced the Gregorian calendar with a Juche calendar that starts with year 0 as 1912, the year of Kim Il Sung’s birth. Under this new Juche calendar the year of Kim's birth, 1912, became Juche 1, and 1997 became Juche 86. The year 2017 was Juche 105; 2021 was Juche 109.

North Korea Shifts It Clocks by 30 minutes to Match South Korea’s

In May 2018, North Korea set its clocks forward by 30 minutes to match its clocks in South Korea an inter-Korean summit. AFP reported: Kim Jong Un promised the move during the meeting at Panmunjom, when he and the South's President Moon Jae-in pledged to pursue denuclearisation and a peace treaty. "The time-resetting is the first practical step taken after the historic third north-south summit meeting to speed up the process for the North and the South to become one," said the official KCNA news agency. [Source: Agence France-Presse, May 5, 2018]

“In Panmunjom, Kim had said he found it a "painful wrench" to see clocks at the summit venue showing different times for the two neighbours, KCNA reported earlier. Kim expressed "his resolution to unify the two times... as the first practical step for national reconciliation and unity", it said, and the North's parliament on Monday adopted a decree to put the move into effect from Saturday. Seoul welcomed the decision as a "symbolic move" towards better inter-Korean ties. It was only in 2015 that the Koreas' clocks diverged, when Pyongyang put itself back 30 minutes to return to the time zone used in the peninsula before Japan colonised it in 1910.” As of May 2018, Seoul, Pyongyang and Tokyo are all in the same time zone.

North Korea is not the only country to have used time to assert its national identity. China and India have both imposed single time zones to promote unity across their vast territories, with people in China's westernmost provinces officially keeping to Beijing time despite the sun rising and setting two hours later than in the capital. Most time zones around the world are an hour apart, but some have smaller differences - Myanmar is half an hour behind next-door Thailand, while Nepal sets itself 15 minutes ahead of India to assert a difference from its giant neighbour.

Major Holidays in North Korea

Kim Jong Il's Birthday (February 16th) is celebrated with a huge extravaganza with parades, mass games, gymnastic performances with thousands of school children, spectacular group dances, placard-picture making, and huge displays in Pyongyang stadium. The Kimjongilia Show, the international Figure-Skating Festival for the Peaktusan Prize and other functions are held in Pyongyang.

Kim Il Sung's Birthday (April 15th) is celebrated with a huge extravaganza with parades and huge displays in Pyongyang stadium. Also called Day of the Sun, it is the biggest and most important celebration in North Korea. During important years there are big military parades. Regular years students and citizens have big dancing party in Kim Il Sung Square. Many women and girls wear Korean beautiful traditional dresses called chima and joggori. International events include Kimilsungia Show and the April Spring Friendship Art Festival. [Source: Explore North Korea tour group]

National Foundation Day (September 9) marks the day in 1948 that the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed. It is celebrated with large military parades in the large square and parade ground in central Pyongyang. Ranks of soldiers goosestep in formation. Tanks, missiles and other military hardware are often put on display. Maya Oppenheim wrote in The Independent: “For one day, everything in the hermit kingdom is closed and a surreal fist-pumping military parade takes place across the capital city of Pyongyang. “People would gather in the squares from morning until six o’clock and sometimes we would walk with the army. It was a very tiring intense day,” one participant told The Independent.“It wasn’t a fun day. It was really hard work. Standing and marching for three hours. [Source: Maya Oppenheim, The Independent, September 9, 2016]

Donald L. Baker wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The period from 16 February (Kim Jong Il's birthday) through 15 April (Kim Il Sung's birthday) is called the Loyalty Festival Period, the most festive period of the year in North Korea. Public celebrations are held throughout the country on the first and last days of this festival period, and in between, students are asked to demonstrate their loyalty by hiking in groups to sacred sites. Reflecting the Juche belief that Kim Il Sung was a sun providing light for all humankind, 15 April has been renamed Sun's Day. [Source: Donald L. Baker, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Arirang Festival Show is also called The Mass Game Show. It is held for one month in the Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. Amazing artistic and gymnastics events with thousands of people. Everyone ftom five-year-old students to elderly citizens participates. The first Arirang show was held in 2002 to celebrate Kim Il Sung 90th birthday and Kim Jong Il 60th birthday anniversary. After that Arirang was held from 2002 to 2005 and 2007 to present. Arirang is North Korean famous folk song and love story. The North Korean version is about Arirang (the man's name), who leave his wife and to fight an evil landlord and seek a happy life. The wife sings the Arirang Song when her her husband leaves.

Traditional Folk Holidays North Korea

Baker wrote: “The North Korean government has also preserved such traditional folk holidays as the Autumn Harvest Moon Festival (in the ninth month of the lunar calendar) and Cold Rice Day (in the fourth lunar month). Koreans traditionally visited their immediate ancestor's graves at the time of the Autumn Harvest Moon Festival and on Cold Rice Day. Now they are also expected to lay a bouquet of flowers before a statue of Kim Il Sung as part of the holiday festivities. [Source: Donald L. Baker, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Lunar New Year (similar to the lunar new year, called the Spring Festival in China) is celebrated with greetings to elders in the morning and playing several folk games. Traditional New Year dishes include rice cake soup, dumpling soup, pop- rice cake, glutinous rice crackers, fruit punch and sweet juice made from fermented rice. [Source: Explore North Korea tour group]

Tano is held on the fifth day of the 5th Chinese lunar month usually in June. Similar to the Chinese Duanwu festival, it has traditionally featured boats racing and eat steamed rice wrapped with special plant leaves. Tano is held around the time people have traditionally sowed and transplanted rice and other crops. The weather is nice and people play colorful folk games. Many people gather at Moran Hill on the banks of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. Holiday makers. Have barbecues on Moran Hill. A traditional food is a fragrant rice cake mixed with wormwood and wrapped with lettuce. Other special dishes are prepared for this day.

North Koreans Celebrate New Year Three Times in a Year

Every year, thousands of North Koreans take to the streets to celebrate the New Year, not only once, but three times. They recognize the Western (Gregorian) New Year, Chinese (Lunar) New Year, and the Juche (North Korean) New Year all in one year. And they celebrate all of them in straight Juche-style! (See Below) [Source: Uri Tours, December 12, 2016]

Gregorian New Year: Just like most of the western world, North Korea celebrates New Year on January 1st of the Gregorian calendar. They ring in the New Year at midnight on December 31 much like Westerners and other people around the world do. For a while, midnight, was 30 minutes behind the rest of the world (See Above).

Lunar New Year: For much of its long history, Korea has celebrated New Year according to the Lunar calendar. It’s reported that they had a temporary halt in 1912 in celebrating Lunar New Year because it was considered to be a Chinese, rather than Korean holiday but that in 1989, they started to celebrate Lunar New Year again. In 2017 Lunar New Year fell on January 28.

Juche New Year is celebrated on April 15, the birthday of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and longest-serving leader. North Korea starts its calendar from the birth of “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung, who was born April 15, 1912 (on the Gregorian calendar). Therefore, the Juche New Year occurs on April 15 each year. It is called the “Day of the Sun” and is by far the largest holiday celebration of the year.

Celebrating New Year in North Korea

According to Uri Tours: “First thing first, the North Korean people start each of their multiple New Year by laying flowers at the bronze statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae Grand Monuments. Then they pay their respects to their parents, elders and teachers. People who live in the cities will return to their hometowns to spend time with family. Often, when you visit a North Korean home on New Years, they will have prepared a special traditional type of rice cake called songpyeon. Songpyeon North Korean Rice Cake. [Source: Uri Tours, December 12, 2016]

“For members of the Worker’s Party, the military, or other invited members and tourists, you may be invited to visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where the late leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, lie in state in this old parliament building. Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang In the afternoon, thousands of locals take to the streets and public squares of Pyongyang. They take part in choreographed mass dances. Foreigners are invited to take part in the dancing. If you don’t know how, just jump in and someone will show you. Mass dancing at Arch of Triumph North Korea

“On Juche New Year, locals and foreigners visit the annual Kimsungilia Flower Exhibition. At the exhibition, you can see an impressive display of the Kimsungilia flower, an orchid named after the Eternal President Kim Il Sung.The Kimjongilia festival takes part during Kim Jong Il’s birthday anniversary. Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition

Finally, on December 31, as midnight approaches, thousands of North Koreans gather in Kim Il Sung Square to ring in the New Year. The Taedong Bell is rung and fireworks are shot over the river behind Juche Tower. Often the communist regime doles out special rations to its 23 or so million people.

On New Year’s Day in 2007 food rations were cut. Associated Press reported: “Promised extra food rations not doled out North Korea skipped giving extra food rations to its people on New Year’s Day, except the elite citizens of Pyongyang, a South Korean aid group said, a possible sign the country’s food situation may be worsening. The North’s government had promised to give a day of extra ration to its people, but did not, said the Seoul-based Good Friends in its newsletter. Still, citizens in the capital of Pyongyang received three days of extra rations, and more special rations were given to medium-level government officials living there, the group said. [Source: Associated Press, January, 2007]

Chusok in North Korea

All Koreans celebrate Chusok, the biggest Korean holiday of the year. Widely known as Korean thanksgiving, Chusok has been observed for a long time and the celebrations in North Korea and South Korea are similar, except that one in the south has some juche and Kim Il Sung inputs. All traditional Korean holidays were banned in 1953 and replaced by Socialist celebrations. The celebration of Chusok, the Lunar year and Hansik returned in 1972 and were designated as "rest days" in 1988. Today Chusok is called Han’gawi (autumn festival) and it is held on September 28–30.

Chusok is held around the same as the Chinese festival of Qingming. It has traditionally been observed by people go to the tombs of their relatives and ancestors and tidying up the graves and leaving offerings to the deceased. This is followed by a big feast with certain traditional foods. Families usually meet at the home of the ranking eldest son, who traditionally lives near the graves of the families ancestors. Married women join the families of their husbands. Sometimes traditional sports such as tug-of -wars are played. A variety of foods made from the new crop of rice are made.

Park Ju-Hee wrote in New Focus International: “Coming together to share food — a key part of this ancient tradition — was all but abandoned by the North in the 1990s, as the country suffered a devastating famine. However, according to recent defectors, the situation in the North has improved dramatically. They say while food shortages still occur, Chusok is now considered by many to be the most important holiday of the year – with food once again playing a central role. According to Kim, a defector who left the North in April” “the day is a time of celebration. “During the bad times, when you’re constantly worrying about your survival, you can forget about the daily humdrum and enjoy yourself, and eat to your fill,” he says. [Source: Park Ju-Hee, New Focus International, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, September 15, 2016]

“Chusok traditions follow a similar pattern North and South of the border, and for some defectors it is a time to reminisce about the lives they left behind. “There are stores selling fruit everywhere in Seoul, but in North Korea it was a rare treat that we could only enjoy on Chusok. I remember how it was so expensive that I would worry while working in the markets that my children would eat all the fruit,” says Park, another defector now living in the South.

Jang, a former child beggar, says she used to wish it was Chusok every day when she lived in the North. Now she lives in the South it is a more painful and reflective time. “Unlike the Koreans living here, I can’t go back to the hometown and I can’t visit my parents’ grave, and that makes me feel guilty,” she says. The celebrations also serve as a reminder of how tough life used to be. “I remember lying in empty crop fields with my other orphan friends on the night of Chusok, sharing memories with them,” she says.

“For the orphans, most fruit was a luxury. One friend of Jang’s recalled the first time they ever ate a banana, a gift from an aunt. Another friend reminisced about eating an apple, core and all, leaving only the stem. Chusokwas also a time of hospitality, Jang recalls. “During the day, the most delicious smells came from every corner of mountains – unlike any other day of the year. Elders drank and looked happy too,” she says. “When it was time for lunch, people started to gather at the tombs of their ancestors. Some even invited us to join them. They would wrap pancakes, eggs, rice cakes, fish, and other dishes… these were the kinds of people who ordinarily chased us beggars away – but on Chusok, they became charitable.”

Chinese Lunar New Year in North Korea

North Koreans observe Chinese lunar neay in late January or early February but it less of big deal than the birthday celebrations for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, which also occur in the early months of year. Elizabeth Shim of UPI wrote: According to Seoul's unification ministry, North Korean defectors have offered details on how people in the relatively reclusive country celebrate the annual holiday that marks the traditional new year for countries like Korea, China and Vietnam. Folk games, kite flying and other activities once popular decades ago in the South are still common in North Korea. Pocket money is given to children, a tradition that is also in practice in the South. [Source: Elizabeth Shim, UPI, January 27, 2017]

“North Korea began celebrating the Lunar New Year according to the lunar calendar in 2003. Before then the holiday was observed on Jan. 1 and North Koreans were only allowed one day of rest, South Korean news service News 1 reported. North Koreans are also obligated to visit bronze statues of founder Kim Il Sung, and his son Kim Jong Il, during the holidays and provide an offering of flowers. Only after they pay visits to memorials dedicated to national figures are North Koreans allowed to visit their ancestral graves, according to the report. Most North Koreans share meals with their families, and unlike other parts of Asia there is no mass migration of city dwellers to rural hometowns because of restrictions on freedom of movement in the country. “Lunar New Year is also a less prominent holiday compared to upcoming celebrations that include former leader Kim Jong Il's 75th birth anniversary in February.

North and South Korea Celebrate Liberation Day Together

Liberation Day marks the day of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II — August 15, 1945 — which also freed Korea from Japanese colonial rule that it had endured since 1910. The holiday is celebrated in both North Korea and South Korea. In 2005, they celebrated it together. Reuters reported: North Koreans and South Koreans began celebrating the 60th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule amid calls for unification despite an unresolved crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear plans. [Source: Reuters, August 15, 2005]

The four-day event highlights renewed exchanges between the two and comes during a recess in six-country talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Two North Korean passenger jets flew from Pyongyang to Inchon near Seoul carrying 182 delegates led by senior communist party official Kim Ki-nam. After an unprecedented visit to the South's national cemetery to pay respects to soldiers killed in the Korean War, the North Korean delegates joined South Koreans at the opening ceremony, which played to the people's apparent desire for unification. "We must overcome regional and partisan interests to join the will and strength of the nation," Kim told the crowd.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young welcomed the North Koreans' visit to the national memorial, saying it would help to usher in "a new future of national harmony". The crowd chanted, "Uri-nun hana" (we are one) and a banner unfurled from the roof of the stadium with the message: "Unification has already happened."

Army Day in North Korea

On April 25, 2017, North Korea marked the 85th anniversary of its armed forces with large-scale military exercises and a a large artillery live-fire drill that occurred as diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan were meeting in Tokyo to discuss fears about North Korea’s nuclear tests. [Source: Al Jazeera, April 26, 2017]

CNBC reported: “North Korean citizens took to the streets to observe a comprehensive live-fire drill on according to media reports, as the country celebrated 85 years since the foundation of its military. The country's 'Army Day', marked as a public holiday in Pyongyang, was observed by North Korean citizens despite one of the U.S.'s most powerful submarines arriving in South Korea on the same day. [Source: CNBC, April 25, 2017]

“The missile-armed USS Michigan docked in South Korea on the anniversary of the Korean People's Army amid rising tensions and increasingly heated rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea's leader King Jong-un was thought to have taken part in the drill which took place near the eastern port city of Wonsan, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. Yonhap estimated between 300 and 400 artillery pieces were used in the live-fire drill.”

Victory Day Celebrated with a Massive ‘Victory Day’ Parade

Victory Day — officially known as The Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War is a national holiday in North Korea celebrated on July 27 to mark the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the cease-fire pact that brought an end to fighting in the Korean War that took place between 1950–1953. On this day ceremonies are held at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Memorial. [Source: Wikipedia]

The parade in 2013, celebrating the 60th anniversary of cease-fire, was particularly big Freya Petersen wrote in GlobalPost: “North Korea has commemorated the anniversary of the Korean War armistace with a huge military parade attended by the country's 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un. Kim, wearing a black Mao suit, viewed the carefully choreographed stream of goose-stepping soldiers and military hardware parading through the capital Pyongyang. He arrived at the podium in Kim Il Sung Square on a red carpet with a military band playing and flanked by military and ruling party leaders, the BBC wrote. After the parade, soldiers collapsed from heat exhaustion. It was scorching hot for hours under the sun in Pyongyang.” [Source: Freya Petersen, GlobalPost, July 27, 2013]

NBC News reported: “Kim Jong Un, overlooked a massive military parade in the capital Pyongyang, as jets and helicopters roared over Kim Il Sung Square which was packed with tens of thousands of soldiers marching in step. Weapons and mid-range missiles were also on display. Kim, dressed head-to-toe in black, did not address the crowd but Choe Ryong Hae, his military aide and chief political operative of the 1.2-million-strong army, delivered an uncharacteristically moderate speech. "Reality shows if peace is sought, there must be preparations for war," he said. "For us with our utmost task of building an economy and improving the lives of the people, a peaceful environment is greater than ever." [Source: Ann Curry and Becky Bratu, NBC News, Associated Pres, August 14, 2013]

“According to a military expert in Seoul, the event appeared to display weapons that have not been on show previously in the country, including surface-to-air missiles used for anti-missile defense, Reuters reported. Leading up to the occasion this year, the country inaugurated a national cemetery dedicated to those it calls martyrs. Among the thousands present at an event on Thursday were war veterans, many now in their 80s.

“Small, spontaneous moments managed to break through that day's pageantry: a widow grieving at the ceremony for her dead husband; a wistful young soldier who said she would travel the world if she could leave North Korea; and proud parents showing off their newborn, telling NBC News' Ann Curry they hope he'd join the military someday. Kim made an appearance, too, driving the crowds into a frenzy. He showed up to cut a ceremonial ribbon on the graveyard but did not deliver a speech.

“The elaborate and lavish Victory Day celebrations were meant to present Kim's credentials to his people and to the world, said Ken Gause, author of numerous books and articles on North Korea's leadership. "As he grows older and as he is able to consolidate his power, he will become more and more the supreme leader ... where he controls everything within the regime and all power flows from him," Gause said.

Kim Il Sung’s Birthday (North Korean New Year) in 2007

On Kim Il Sung’s Birthday in 2007, Jack Kim of Reuters wrote: “Tens of thousands joined in exuberant celebrations to mark the birthday of North Korea's founder. The official KCNA news agency reported from Pyongyang that leader Kim Jong-il promoted 35 military officers to the rank of general on the birth anniversary of his late father, Kim Il-sung. The reclusive state has planned more than a month of festivities to mark the 95th anniversary of president Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. [Source: Jack Kim, Reuters, Apr 15, 2007]

“Celebrations kicked off on Saturday night with "mass games", a multi-act extravaganza in the May Day stadium that was part gymnastic floor show, part military parade and part circus act involving about 100,000 people. "The floor of the stadium turned into a veritable sea of flowers and dancers," KCNA said in a report early on Sunday, the official 'Day of the Sun' anniversary. "The performance made a flawless ideological and artistic representation of the immortal revolutionary career of Kim Il-sung." Japan's Kyodo news agency reported from Pyongyang that the dancers and gymnasts performed against a mosaic backdrop of coloured pictures held up by students.

“Streets and buildings of the impoverished state's capital were decked with signs and decorations, it said, and women in colourful dress were seen practising a dance routine in the Kim Il-sung square. Current leader Kim promoted 35 officers to commanding generals, "expressing the firm belief that (they) will remain true to the leadership of the party and reliably protect the ideology, the system and cause of (North Korea)", KCNA said. Number two leader Kim Yong-nam omitted the customary diatribe against Washington in a report on progress towards the founder's "immortal" ideals, serving only a passing and vague warning that Pyongyang's military power should not be taken lightly.

Kim Il Sung’s Birthday’s Celebrated with a Massive Military Parade in 2017

On Kim Il Sung’s Birthday in 2017, Reuters reported: “North Korea celebrated the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, North Korea's founder, in a customary grandiose display. Troop formations, missile displays, and armored vehicles rolled through the massive Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, as the country's current leader, Kim Jong Un, perched on the balcony and gave the occasional nod and salute to thousands of his subjects below. April 15, also known as the "Day of the Sun," remains significant for the reclusive nation — not only to celebrate its deified founder, but for the opportunity to show the world a glimpse of its military power and the latest technological advances in its arsenal. One of the debuts included the Pukkuksong-2 SLBM, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, loaded on trucks, according to Reuters. [Source: David Choi, Reuters April 15, 2017]

Associated Press reported: “North Korea rolled out prototype intercontinental ballistic missiles and other military hardware at a massive parade to celebrate the birthday” as “ Kim Jong Un looked on in delight. State television showed Kim, wearing a black suit and white shirt, stepping out of a limousine and saluting his honor guard before walking down a red carpet. He then stepped up to a podium and clapped with senior government officials to address the thousands of soldiers and civilians taking part in the parade. [Source: Associated Press, April 15, 2017]

“The festivities took place amid concerns that North Korea is possibly preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a significant rocket launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM. State television showed what appeared to be several KN-08 and KN-14 missiles rolled out on trucks at the parade. Military analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States, although the North has yet to flight test them.

“North Korean soldiers also rolled out what appeared to be another large rocket covered by a canister. An official from South Korea's Defense Ministry couldn't immediately confirm whether the rocket was a new ICBM. Other military hardware at the parade included tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns, as well as a solid-fuel missile designed to be fired from submarines. Also on display was a powerful midrange missile that outside analysts call a "Musudan," and which can potentially reach U.S. air bases in Guam, as well as a new solid-fuel midrange missile that can be fired from mobile launchers.

“Military planes flew in formation, creating the number "105" above Kim Il Sung Square. Choe Ryong Hae, who some say is the second-most powerful official in North Korea, said in a speech that the country is ready to stand up to any threat posed by the United States. He criticized the new U.S. government under President Donald Trump for "creating a war situation" on the Korean Peninsula by dispatching strategic military assets to the region."We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack," Choe said.

“Other senior officials joining Kim at the podium included Kim Won Hong, who the South Korean government had said earlier this year was fired from his job as state security minister, presumably over corruption. South Korea has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea, as information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm. Kim Jong Un didn't speak before North Korean television ended the live broadcast.

Kim Il Sung’s Birthday in 2019

Describing Kim Il Sung’s birthday in 2019, Yonhap News Agency reported: “North Korea marked the birthday of founding leader Kim Il Sung on Monday with calls for loyalty to his grandson and current leader Kim Jong Un. In an editorial marking the late founder's 107th birthday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper lauded the founder and urged the country to "depend completely" on the current leader and follow his leadership until the end.

“Dubbed the Day of the Sun, Kim Il Sung's birthday, April 15, is one of the biggest national holidays in North Korea. This year's anniversary came as North Korea held a series of political events to solidify leader Kim Jong Un's grip on power. The current leader has been seeking to emulate his grandfather since taking office in late 2011. North's state TV began its programming earlier than on other national holidays and broadcast programs highlighting the achievements of the late founder and the legitimacy of the current Kim Jong Un regime. [Source: Yonhap news Agency, April 15, 2019]

“On the eve of the anniversary, the North also held a national meeting to mark the anniversary, with a number of top officials attending it, including the country's newly appointed No. 2 leader Choe Ryong Hae. In a celebratory report, Choe lauded the late leader's "rare wisdom, outstanding guidance and noble virtue" for leading the country's "revolution and construction only to victory," according to the Korean Central News Agency. "It is the firm will of the Workers' Party of Korea and the government of the Republic to build a powerful socialist nation by our own efforts and our own way taking the revolutionary line of independence, the revolutionary mode of self-reliance," Choe was quoted as saying.

“Other state media outlets also published a series of messages sent from foreign organizations to celebrate Kim's birthday in an apparent effort to praise the late founder as a world-class leader. In the past, the North used to mark the anniversary with military parades to flex its military muscle, but the country has refrained from such provocative events since the negotiating process kicked in last year.

Kim Jong Il’s Birthday

It is widely believed that Kim Jong Il was one year older than was claimed. He celebrated his 40th birthday twice in 1981 so that there was a clear 30 year age difference between him and his father. [Source: Korea Herald]

Kim Jong Il’s birthday is celebrated with a huge extravaganza with parades, mass games, gymnastic performances with thousands of school children, spectacular group dances, placard-picture making, and huge displays in Pyongyang stadium. Thousands of people dance and bring flowers to Pyongyang. Pyongyang's wide boulevards were festooned with flags and banners. The ruling Workers' Party and the military throw a huge banquet

On Kim Jong Il’s birthday young children often receive gift bags of cookies and sweets and stand in front a picture of the dear leader and offer their thanks. One mother told the New York Times, “It is great that children get these gifts. That way, they learn who the dear leader is and that he is their king.”

A huge celebration was held in 2002 to mark Kim Jong Il’s 60th birthday. Goose-stepping soldiers waved North Korean flags and pledged “ardent worship to him.” Children danced in formation to martial music under images of gunfire and Kim Jong Il in a military uniform. Men in suits and women in hanbos (traditional Korean gowns) danced waltzes and stepped under arches of roses emblazoned with words of congratulations. Sports events and public presentations of the greatness of Kim Jong Il were also held.

During Kim Jong Ils’ birthday thousands danced in the streets and enjoy song and dance numbers such as “My Happiness is in the Bosom of the Respected General.” North Korea's official media has said flowers come into bloom when he appears and rainbows fill the sky on his birthday. Over the years the "Wonders of the February holiday" — Kim Jong Il’s birthday — have included sunrises so brilliant that frost exploded with the sound of firecrackers, rainbows appeared and frozen lakes thawed with such a noise that it caused mountains to shake. [Source: Jon Hershkovitz, The Scotsman, February 17, 2007]

In 2003, the Workers party newspaper, Rodong Shimbun, reported the appearance of glorious rainbow clouds over General Peak and Leadership Peak in the same mountain range as Mount Paektu before Mr Kim's 61st birthday. "It seems it is the magic of heaven that on the birthday of the great leader, this phenomenon appears," it said. North Korean television reported the discovery of a rare albino raccoon dog which, it said, signified momentous times ahead for the country and its leader. Even at the demilitarised zone where the North's army faces its enemies, officers said their main concern was celebrating Dear Leader’s birthday. Soldiers sang “General Kim Jong-il, Please Don't Travel the Snowy Road,” which implores their leader not to work too hard. Children at orphanages and hospitals were given extra food, and prisoners inside "re-education camps" received additional rations. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 15, 2003]

Kim Jong Il’s Birthday Celebrated with Goose-Stepping Anti-Imperialist Soldiers

Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16, — "the greatest auspicious holiday of the nation" — was named the Day of the Shining Star, according to the political bureau of the North Korean Worker Party's central committee. On the celebration on the first birthday after Kim’s death, AFP reported: “North Korea's military has paraded on the birthday of late leader Kim Jong-Il, pledging to defend his son. Battles can break out without warning, military chief Ri Yong-Ho told the televised ceremony, vowing to "wipe out US imperialists and South Korean puppet traitors" and reunify the peninsula in case of war. "Kim Jong-Un! Protect him with all our might!" roared thousands of troops from the army, navy and air force, state television showed. [Source: AFP, February 17, 2012]

“The event was the latest in a series designed to bolster loyalty to the Kim dynasty, after Kim Jong-Il died and was succeeded by his young and inexperienced son. The parade outside Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace marked the changing of its name to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a TV announcer said, in a tribute to the late leader and to his own father and founding president Kim Il-Sung.

“A black-overcoated Jong-Un presided in near-freezing temperatures over the parade, which also featured fireworks and a release of balloons before a march-past by goose-stepping troops. Dozens of military trucks, artillery and rocket launchers were also on show. Just beforehand, hundreds of top military and civilian officials paid tribute inside the marble-pillared palace to Kim Jong-Il. Soldiers in large-brim caps saluted a smiling portrait. Civilians bowed deeply before the image as solemn music played.

Their voices throbbing with emotion, TV commentators said "father General" Kim Jong-Il had "brought proud victory and glory to the country". "There will be only victory and glory in the future of North Korea...led by the respected leader Kim Jong-Un," a commentator predicted. TV footage depicted the late General Kim as a caring father figure. "The General (Kim) took time out of his busy schedule and deigned to visit my daughter's home, listening to this old farmer's concerns," an old woman said on TV. "There are no other leaders in the world like the General."

“In the run-up to the birth anniversary, the former leader has been posthumously appointed a "Generalissimo". A statue has been unveiled in Pyongyang, showing him on horseback alongside Kim Il-Sung. Commemorative stamps and coins, an art exhibition and a festival of Kimjongilia - a hybrid red begonia - also mark the day, as does an inscription 120 metres (400 feet) wide carved on a mountainside. Jong-Un oversaw the dispatch of birthday gifts by ship or helicopter to children on islands in the Yellow Sea, state media said.”

Silent Christmas in North Korea

Under the headlines “Kim Jong-un Bans Christmas, Makes North Korea Worship Grandma,” the New York Post reported: “Kim Jong-un is the Grinch who stole Christmas. North Korea’s tubby tyrant wants the few Christians in the hermit state to spread cheer only to celebrate his grandma, Kim Jong-suk — not the birth of Jesus. Jong-suk — who was born on Christmas Eve in 1919 — was an anti-Japanese guerrilla and Communist activist, wife of North Korea’s first dictator, Kim Il-sung, and former leader Kim Jong-il’s mother. Many pay homage to the “Sacred Mother of the Revolution,” who died under mysterious circumstances in 1949, by visiting her tomb. The daffy dictator is so obsessed with banning Christmas that he even flipped out in 2014 when he found out that South Korea planned to erect a huge Christmas tree along the DMZ. [Source: New York Post, December 25, 2016]

Reporting from Panmunjom in 2004, James Pringle wrote in the New York Times: “Driving into this formerly bombed-out truce village in the demilitarized zone dividing Korea for the fifth time over the years — the last occasion from the Communist north — I noticed something different: the silence. A military escort explained that both North and South Korea, in keeping with the south's ongoing policy of carrots, not sticks, had some months ago stopped blaring insulting loudspeaker propaganda. He added this meant that there would be no Christmas carols broadcast from the south across the mine-strewn DMZ this year. I hadn't heard about the carols before, but this cleared up the mystery of a much earlier incident in North Korea. I was visiting a monument in Kaesong, a historic former capital 12 miles northwest of Panmunjom, when the young woman guide, clad in a militia uniform, glanced round to ensure we were out of earshot of North Korea's Thought Police. [Source: James Pringle, New York Times, December 9, 2004]

“Then, she leaned forward and asked, "Do you know this?" and quietly hummed the opening bars of "Silent Night." She said no more as my "minder" moved in. I was taken aback, not because of any religious views or cherished hopes of a Christian North Korea, but because the woman seemed to be defying the authority of the northern police state, even risking ending up in its Gulag. I realized that ordinary North Koreans were far from being mindless automatons.

“I wondered how, given that radios were doctored to receive only party-approved programs, the guide could know this carol, in a land where all music deified only Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his late father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, the collective Big Brother. Now the mystery may have been solved. She must have either heard it over these now-silent loudspeakers, or learned it from someone who had.

“It may be an illusion, but the atmosphere here on a winter's day, with V-shaped formations of geese winging south across the DMZ, seems more encouraging. Better geese than rockets, after all. No one in the south wants conflict, a sentiment doubtless shared by ordinary North Koreans, who are perhaps more savvy than we think. War is in the collective memory of all Koreans. No carols this Christmas should be seen in the context of ending all cross-DMZ hate-filled, two-way loudspeaker rants. On the other hand, I won't forget the North Korean version of "Silent Night."

Giant Christmas Tree at the DMZ: Propaganda?

In 2010, as troops stood guard and a choir sang carols, South Koreans lit a massive steel Christmas tree near Aegibong on a spot that overlooks the DMZ — world's most heavily armed border — and is within sight of atheist North Korea. The tree had 100,000 lights, likely making it visible as far away as Kaesong, one of the North’s most populated border cities.

Lee Jin-Man of Associated Press wrote: The lighting of the tree after a seven-year hiatus marked a pointed return to a tradition condemned in Pyongyang as propaganda. The provocative ceremony — which needed government permission — was also a sign that” South Korea was “serious about countering the North's aggression with measures of its own in the wake of an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans a month earlier. [Source: Lee Jin-Man, Associated Press, December Dec. 21, 2010]

The tree lighting was seen as a signal that the South is ready to play hardball until it sees real change from the North. Earlier, a South Korean destroyer prowled the sea and fighter jets tore across the skies in preparation for possible North Korean attacks a day after Seoul held a round of artillery drills from a front-line island.

“On Aegibong Peak, about a mile from the border that divides the Korean peninsula, marines toting rifles circled the Christmas tree as more than 100,000 twinkling lights blinked on. The brightly lit tree — with a cross on top — stood in stark relief to North Korea, where electricity is limited. Choir members dressed in white robes trimmed in blue and wearing red scarves and Santa Claus hats gathered beneath the steel structure draped with multicolored lights, illuminated stars and snowflakes. An audience of about 200 listened as they sang "Joy to the World" and other Christmas carols. "I hope that Christ's love and peace will spread to the North Korean people," said Lee Young-hoon, a pastor of the Seoul church that organized the lighting ceremony. About 30 percent of South Koreans are Christian.

“The 100-foot-tall (30-meter-tall) steel tree sits on a peak high enough for North Koreans living in border towns to see it and well within reach of their nation's artillery. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said an attack from North Korea was certainly possible but unlikely.North Korea, officially atheist and with only a handful of sanctioned churches in Pyongyang with services for foreigners, warned that lighting the tree would constitute a "dangerous, rash act" with the potential to trigger a war.

“As a precaution, dozens of armed troops took up position around the site during the lighting ceremony. Ambulances and fire trucks were parked nearby. Instructions placed on chairs at the ceremony advised participants to take cover in case of an attack from North Korea. "The danger of the enemy's threat still exists," the leaflet read, suggesting that they hide behind concrete walls, crouch down between chairs and move quickly to shelters in case of an attack. The event took place uninterrupted.

“For decades, the rival Koreas have fought an ideological war, using leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts across the border. At the height of the propaganda, South Korea's military speakers blared messages near the border 20 hours a day, officials say. South Korea halted the campaign about seven years ago — including the longtime practice of lighting the huge Christmas tree — as ties between North and South warmed under an era of reconciliation. The church had sought government permission to light the tree over the years, but had been denied several years running.”

The lighting of a Christmas tree tower near the DMZ was an annual event for years until 2004, when the practice was suspended as part of an agreement between the two Koreas not to spread propaganda near the border. In 2011, the South Korean government approved plans for three such displays near the DMZ. A North Korean state-run Web site called those planned displays a form of “psychological warfare” and warned there would be “unexpected consequences” if the coalition of South Christian groups went ahead with the tree lightings. The displays were ultimately canceled in consideration of North Korea’s official period of mourning in the wake of the death of Kim Jong Il last December. The tree lighting was resumed in 2012 and but canceled in 2013 due to a military alert. In 2014, a 20-meter-high (60 foot) "Christmas" tower — with a giant illuminated cross — was pulled down after North and South Korea agreed to resume high-level talks. [Source: Jon Rabiroff and Yoo Kyong Chang, Stars and Stripes, December 21, 2012; AFP, AP, December 22, 2014]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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