Hangeul Day is a public holiday in South Korea that is celebrated annually on October 9. It marks the date of when the Korean alphabet, hangeul, is believed to have been proclaimed to the public. The creator of hangeul, King Sejong, is a popular figure in Korean history. He was the fourth monarch of the Joseon Dynasty and under his reign, cultural and scientific achievements flourished. He is well-known as the figure printed on the Korean won.
His primary purpose of creating hangeul was to create a distinct language that the people of Joseon could use – one that was not too difficult for everyone to learn. Before the creation of hangeul, many Koreans were illiterate because many struggled with learning Chinese characters which were difficult to learn and often incompatible with the conversational language of Koreans.
October 9th is believed to be the official date of when King Sejong invented the hangeul back in 1446. The official date of the creation of hangeul was discovered in 1940 when Korean scholars discovered an original copy of the book that Sejong distributed to the public along with his proclamation of hangeul. This book is called the “Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye”.
The celebration as Hangeul Day stems from a sad period in Korean history when Koreans were under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). By making Hangeul Day a holiday, Koreans tried to preserve the Korean alphabet even though the Japanese forbade the use of Korean. After World War II ended and Korea was liberated from Japanese rule, Hangeul Day finally became a national holiday in 1945.
In 1991, Hangeul Day was removed from the list of national holidays and relabeled as a national commemoration day. Korea has a lot of October holidays starting with the Armed Forces Day and ending with the Chuseok holiday. Corporate lobbyists were successful in their movement to add more working days to the Korean calendar by changing the holiday observance. They believed that having too many holidays would be detrimental to the national economy.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Hangeul Day was reinstated as a national holiday. Now, Hangeul Day is celebrated with festivals and exhibitions that remember and commemorate the alphabet around the country. Although it isn’t one of Korea’s most heavily celebrated holidays, it has a deep and significant history, making it a day of pride for Koreans who view hangeul as their cultural icon.
Suah Cho, a student at Seongdeok High School, told JSR, “I feel like it is much different than how Americans view English. For Koreans, hangeul is representative of our identity and our culture as a country, which is why Hangeul Day is that much more important!”