Thursday, May 21, 2009
I meant to write this post for Mother's Day, but as you can see, I am a little late, not even fashionably late, just plain Jane stinking late. I did call my mother on the actual day and I had Kyle buy her flowers and take them to her office, so my tardiness, although it is embarrassingly late, isn't too reprehensible.
In the United States in the year 1914 the United States Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday of every May to officially commemorate Mothers. It is a day of much needed recognition. It is a day to honor the woman who carried us for nine months, bore us, and raised us. From the many bratty Vanessa stories, I can attest that although my mother is only the mother of one child, it took much patience and perseverance to raise me. Personally, and I realize my opinion is biased on the matter, I feel that I turned out to be an OK adult (even one might say a good adult if that is really quantifiable) and much of the credit goes to my wonderful and loving mother. And I am very grateful to everything she has ever done for me, which is more than I could ever asked for in a mother. She deserves this honor, and day and so much more.
And although parent's day is not an official holiday, Children's day is and occurs only a few days before parent's day. Children are given gifts and typically have Children's day off to celebrate with their families, however the kids at SNET this year had to attend school. They were very dissappointed to be in school for the last year that children's day would apply to them. This article helps to explain the origins of Children's day and helped me to understand our kids true dissappointment.
If you ask a Korean first or second grader what important event took place on June 25 they most likely won't be able to tell you, but ask them what holiday takes place on May 5 and nearly every one of them will answer Children's Day. Children's Day in Korea is viewed by Korean children in a similar manner as Christmas is viewed by many children in the rest of the world -- as a time for gifts and fun. Because it is a national holiday, parents are free to indulge the whims and wants of their offspring by taking them to amusement parks, movies, parks, zoos, and other places that draw the excited laughter of youth.
Children's Day in Korea traces its origins to Bang Jeong-hwan, a children's story book writer, who, on May 1, 1923, wrote "An Open Letter to Adults." This letter called upon adults to, among other things, "speak to children with respect, and speak softly." One translation of Bang Jeong-hwan's letter states: "Children are the future of our nation. Let's show respect for children. Children who grow up with ridicule and contempt from others will become people who disrespect others, while children who grow up with respect from others will become people who respect others in turn."  According to various Internet sources, Children's Day in Korea was known as Boy's Day up until 1975 when it was officially accepted as a holiday, but, as seen below, there are other sources from the 1950s that clearly denote the day as "Children's Day." Perhaps the sources are confused with the Japanese holiday, on the same date, known as "Tango No Sekko" (Boy's Day). On this day a carp-shaped kite is displayed for each boy in a household. Considering Korea was under Japanese control at the time, it is very likely that this holiday was celebrated in Korea and that Bang Jeong-hwan, aware of the prejudices against little girls, declared it "Children's Day" to honor both sexes.
Although Children's Day is a celebration of youth and innocence, its history has been marred by the politics of adults. In 1946 South Korea moved Children's Day from May 1 to May 5, but North Korea chose to celebrate International Children's Day on June 1, "a date that was established in November 1949 at the International Democratic Women's League Council held in Moscow." Perhaps the most poignant account of the terrible repercussions of the war upon the Korean youth is Time Magazine's description of Children's Day in 1951: "Some 30 years ago, in the days of Japanese rule, the elders of Korea saw no hope of freedom for themselves. But their children, they felt, might be more fortunate. They began to observe May 5 as Children's Day. Last week battered Seoul celebrated Children's Day with a parade by the police, who marched 600 strong behind a brass band and a huge placard: 'Children Are the Nation's Flower.' "The nation's flowers emerged from caves and broken buildings. Beside the budding, shrapnel-scarred elms along the streets, they watched. Now & then a youngster clapped or smiled, but mostly they stood with wooden faces, like tired old people who have found life very hard and who take little joy in parades." The article noted that the band avoided the South Gate and the bombed Seoul Station where "the abandoned, the homeless, [and] the orphans prowled restlessly, begging, stealing, conniving to stay alive." It ended by noting that the police handed out small packets of candy and food to the children, and those with parents then went on long happy walks, while those who were orphaned by the war and "had no parents to take them home melted back into their caves and cellars." 
Fortunately things have changed since the war and children are now able to enjoy the bounty of living in a prosperous nation. Parks, museums, and other venues of entertainment have been built for the benefit of children. One of the largest parks in Asia, the Seoul Grand Children's Park, was built under the guidance of then president Park Chung-hee who, echoing Bang Jeong-hwan, wrote: "Children are the heroes of tomorrow. May they grow to be gentle, vigorous, and wise." Let us hope.
Korea even has a Teacher's Day. Wikipedia said this about the holiday : Originally it was started by a group of red-cross youth team members who visited their sick ex-teachers at hospitals. The national celebration ceremony had been stopped between 1973 and 1982 and it resumed after that. On the celebration day, teachers are usually presented with carnations by their students, and both enjoy a shorter school day. Ex-students pay their respects to the former teachers by visiting them and handing a carnation. Many schools now close on Teacher's Day because of the rampant bribery implicit in the expensive gifts often given to teachers. Schools can use the day to have an outing for the teachers.
However, once again SNET is not a typical school so we did not have a short day or the day off. In the morning we received a red carnation corsage which was too heavy for my shirt, but was beautiful and thoughtful none-the-less. Our presents from the children were few if any. I was gifted a piece of candy from one of the passing students. Our boss took us to dinner which was fantastic. It was nice to be recognized for our hard work and I think that this should be a holiday also celebrated in the USA!