Korean Alphabet Day
The Korean Alphabet Day is a celebration about the creation and proclamation of the Korean alphabet. It is Korean’s national commemorative day, commemorating the invention and the proclamation of the alphabet of the Korean language by the 15th-century Korean monarch Sejong the Great.
Korean Alphabet Day is celebrated in South Korea on October 9th as Hangeul Proclamation Day or Hangeul Day for short. In 2013, Korean Alphabet Day became a national holiday in South Korea.
During the fifteenth century, people in Korea known as Joseon at the time, primarily wrote using Classical Chinese alongside native phonetic writing systems. Before the creation of Hangul, these characters are known as “Hanja.” It predates Hangul by hundreds of years including idu, hyangchal, gugyeol, and gakpil.
Due to the fundamental differences between the Korean and Chinese languages and the large number of characters needed to be learned, only the elite in Korea were literate. The lower classes who often didn’t have the privilege of education had much difficulty in learning how to write using Chinese characters.
In 1443 to solve the problem, King Sejong decided that it would be best for Korea if the Korean language has its own alphabet. He then created and completed in 1444 the unique alphabet known as Hangul to promote literacy among the common people.
King Sejong proclaimed publication of Hunmin Jeongeum in the ninth month of the lunar calendar in 1446 according to the Sejong Sillok. Hunmin Jeongeum is the document introducing the newly created alphabet which was also originally called by the same name.
The Korean Language Society is an organization whose goal was to preserve the Korean language during the time of rapid force Japanization in 1926. They celebrated the 480th anniversary of the declaration of Hangeul on the last day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar which is on November 4 of the Gregorian calendar. The Korean Language Society’s members declared it as the first observance of “Gagyanal,” that came from “Gagyageul” which is an early colloquial name for Hangeul.
The name of the national holiday was changed to “Hangullal” in 1928. Later on, the term “Hangul” was made and became widely accepted as the new name for the alphabet which was coined originally by Ju Si-gyeong. Since then, the day was celebrated according to the lunar calendar.
The holiday was observed according to the calendar in contemporary use in 1931 which was switched to October 29 of the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar was in use when King Sejong had made his proclamation in the 15th century. The date was transferred to October 28 after three years to align the date with it.
In 1940, an original copy of the Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye was discovered. A volume of commentary to the Hunmin Jeongeum was announced during the first ten days of the ninth month. The tenth day of the 1446 lunar calendar was equivalent to October 9 of that same year’s Julian calendar. The South Korean government declared October 9 to be the Hangeul Day in 1945. It is established as a yearly legal holiday which excused government employees from work.
Major employees pressured the South Korean government to increase the country’s annual number of work days. To balance out the adoption of the United Nations Day, it vacated Hangeul Day’s status as a holiday in 1991. A 6.2-meter-high and 20-ton bronze statue of King Sejong the Great of Joseon was unveiled to the public at Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul in 2009 which is in celebration of the 563rd anniversary of the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong.
Korean Alphabet Day remained a national commemoration day by law and the Hangeul Society campaigned for the holiday’s restoration. The Hangeul Society won the campaign on November 1, 2012, when the National Assembly voted 189 with 4 abstaining in favor of a resolution that called for the return of the Hangeul Day as a national holiday.
In the present time, Hangul is Korea’s national alphabet but the oldest Korean alphabet, Hanja, can still be seen occasionally, particularly in Korean’s calendar. It might seem strange for people to get a day off from work just to celebrate the national alphabet. But South Korea’s history of Hangul will make you see its importance to Korea and Korean culture.