A holiday reconnects Koreans to the earthIt may have been a national holiday yesterday, but many Koreans managed to stay busy anyway.
This year, Arbor Day coincided with Hansik, when people pay respect to their ancestors by holding a service at their graves. If people weren’t performing rituals, they were out planting trees.
Arbor Day became an official holiday after World War II. Back then, Korea, which had a long custom of heating homes by burning wood, felt the need to repopulate its forests, which were far from lush.
The Korean government and U.S. military administration first officially recognized Arbor Day in 1946, the year after Korea was liberated from Japan.
Since then, the government has urged Koreans to plant a tree on Arbor Day to restore the country’s forests.
Though the official holiday didn’t start until 1946, Korea has had some form of Arbor Day, dating back to the 19th century.
American J.S. Morton, a former member of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, was the first to promote Arbor Day in 1872, an idea that spread around the world, but many Koreans believe that the holiday has its origins in the Joseon Dynasty.
Historic records show that King Seongjong of the mid-Joseon Dynasty planted a mulberry tree with his own hands on Feb. 25, 1343, according to the lunar calendar, which is April 5 in the regular calendar.
The other holiday, Hansik, which marks the beginning of farming season, used to be a big event when Korea was more of an agricultural nation.
Hansik, the 105th day after Dongji, or the Winter Solstice, falls on April 5 or 6 every year. On Hansik, the royal court used to perform services at the shrines to honor their ancestors.
by Chun Su-jin