Inside North Korea: New Year & Xmas Celebrations

January 13th, 2011

The following materials come from the Russian language blog, “Show and Tell Pyongyang”.  Language has been translated by Google Translate and tidied up as best possible by NK News.

“Show and Tell Pyongyang” can be found here.

With the end of 2010 came 2011.  In the chronology of the Korean Peninsula, 2011 marks the one hundredth year of Juche.

The past year was named the “year of great change” by the North Korean media. Following the monetary reform, the political situation became further complicated with South Korea because of the  sinking of the Cheonan and the recent island shelling at Yeonpyoeng. But there was also the positive. The electricity situation improved a lot, with streets visibly brighter.  The problems associated with inconsistent electricity supplies have reduced. Now you can see working traffic lights on the streets and cars have gotten bigger. The number of people with mobile phones continues to increase. In early October, the Workers’ Party of Korea met to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the WPK. In October, Pyongyang was filled by various delegations, journalists and tourists.

New Year “surprises” that have now arisen for the foreign population in the DPRK include the final ban on the use of Japanese RHD cars (by the way, right before Christmas – December 24) and the termination of the telephone network Sunnet, which had been used by foreigners before the appearance in January 2009 of the 3G Network Koryolink.

The DPRK marked two new years celebrations – on the solar and lunar calendars. But Christmas, celebrated extensively in South Korea (where near the border, a Christmas tree was even installed on top of which was a cross instead of a star), is celebrated in the DPRK only by foreigners. Instead, the general public in North Korea focused on celebrating the new year according to the solar calendar .

New Year is a family holiday. The celebration begins with a nod to parents in the morning on January 1. It should be noted that the New Year holidays in North Korea form only 2 days, namely 1 and 2 January. Shops and restaurants work hard in advance of these days to prepare extra produce because during the holidays there are always a lot of visitors. December 31 is considered a working day, although this afternoon in Pyongyang, people flock to the statue of Kim Il Sung, to pay homage to the father of the Korean nation. Some attend the Kumsusan palace. A week before the holidays people purchase many products, drinks, and gifts  – like everywhere else in the world – and prepare for a New Year’s feast. In the markets before the new year there were so many people that it was difficult to pass, and in the shops there were people en masse, buying greeting cards, soft toys (one store I was in was in had a foreign Santa Claus) and calendars.

The tradition of having a Christmas tree is not common in residential houses, but one can find them in some restaurants, shops and hotels (who often arrange a small exhibition). In the parks and squares you can see snowmen made of cotton. This year’s exhibition was more modest, but a few years ago I saw this snowman! :

Here is another cotton snowman:

Here is such the North’s unique style of combining Korean and foreign traditions:

Koryo Hotel

And a little more about people’s traditions. You’d be surprised, but the film “Irony of Fate,” which Russians were watching on New Years Eve, has long been dubbed into Korean and was also show here for the new year! “Irony of Fate-2″ was also dubbed, but in the opinion of the Koreans, the film failed, with part one being recognized as the best.

In terms of weather, in contrast to Moscow, here it was all right: there were no large snow drifts and frost.

And if you compare with Russia, the process of meeting in the new year is very different. At night on the streets you hardly find people walking, no fireworks and crackers – instead all people all are feasting at the table. Although this New Year’s Eve in downtown fireworks were heard.
In the new year, Koreans play traditional national games. This game (윷놀이) is in my opinion a very interesting game.  Also played is tug of war, while children spinning tops and fly kites.
Look at how many wreaths were to be found at the statue of Kim Il Sung (photo 2 January). Many people came and brought flowers, but the biggest and most beautiful bouquet of flowers was presented to Kim Jong Il. There were flowers from the embassies of the DPRK, and governments of various countries around the world. People come in families or in small groups with friends, lay flowers, bow and take photos.

People laying flowers on the square:

I could not resist taking pictures of charming girls:)


All visitors can buy drinks such as hot tea and a snack:

People share photos, apparently, with Christmas cheer

While in Russia the new year begins with the raising prices on everything you can imagine, the DPRK’s year begins with the adoption of the Joint Editorial »(공동 사설) – a document that summarizes the past year, the aim for this year and clarifies the position concerning the unification of Korea and the main directions of foreign policy.
During the new year holiday concerts are held. December 31, saw a concert featuring the Ynhasu »(« 은하수 ») orchestra, which was attended by Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-eun, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam and other state officials.

On the streets, in addition to new years celebration posters, appeared slogans such as “We realize the problems inherent in a joint editorial” (a company that is particularly distinguished themselves in carrying out the annual plan will be awarded) and “Everything to improve the lives of the people.”

Also 1 and 2 January this year, many cities have been having massive rallies calling for the implementation of assigned tasks in the new year.

Happy New Year, comrades!

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.