Happy 4939th Birthday Korea!

The 3rd of October is a meaningful date in Germany as it is German Unification Day. This holiday is mostly important in politics and in media; Germans themselves hardly celebrate the unity of East and West Germany. However, this date is not only of national importance in Germany, but also in Korea. Koreans celebrate Gaecheonjeol (개천절) which is nothing else than National Foundation Day. According to history the first nation state of Korea was founded back around this date in 2333 BC by founder King Dangun (단군왕검 /dangun wanggeom/). He named his kingdom Joseon (nowadays officially known as Gojoseon, meaning ancient Joseon) which was located at the northern part of north Korea in the area of Manchuria (now part of China).


As in most cases, there is a certain foundation myth circling around these kind of events. Even though I knew some bits and pieces from my Korean friends, I had to google and Wikipedia on this topic. I’ll just shortly summaries what you can find on the internet anyway. So, King Dangun’s father was the son of the Lord of Heaven and wished to live on earth (why do they always do? Gosh, heaven must be so boring) and in contrast to most other plots, his father did not mind him to do so, founded a city in Baekdu Mountain for him and even gave him company. Living nearby the “City of Gods” a tiger and a bear were eager to become humans, too, and prayed to King Dangun’s father to make their wish come true. He then gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort which they should eat and sit in the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger quit, the bear succeded and was turned into a woman. Later, King Dangun’s father took her for his wife and she gave birth to King Dangun. That is way Dangun is also nicknamed “Grandson of Heaven” or “Son of a Bear” (thank God it was a bear and not a …).


He is the one who made it happen: Korea’s founder Dangun

Oddly, Gaecheonjeol means “Festival of the Opening of Heaven” and therefore rather refers to Dangun’s father descending from heaven to earth than King Dangun’s achievement – but as long as the credits stay within the family, we won’t be too strict on that one. Ceremonies for this years 4939th birthday were held nation wide with parades.

Keep in mind, even though nowadays the date is fixed on the 3rd of October (since 1949) the original dating was according to the more commonly used lunar calendar at set in the third day of its 10th month. And, yes, also North Korea celebrates this historical day.


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