Does anyone know what is special about October 3? It’s National Foundation Day (개천절, Gaecheonjeol) in Korea. Gaecheonjeol translates to “Opening of Heaven Day.”

Gaecheonjeol commemorates the founding of Gojoseon (고조선), the first state of Korea. According to legend, Gojoseon was founded by Dangun, the first Korean ancestor. Dangun was the child of Hwanung, the son of the Lord of heaven and Woongnyu, a bear turned-woman.

As legend has it, the god Hwanin and his son Hwanung lived up in the heavens, but Hwanung wanted to live down on earth. A bear and a tiger prayed to the gods because they wanted to be humans. One day, Hwanung gave the bear and tiger twenty cloves of garlic and mugwort and said that he would turn them into humans if they only lived on that and stayed in a cave for 100 days. The tiger gave up but the bear made it through. Hwanung turned the bear into a woman, but once she was transformed she was lonely that Hwanung turned himself into a man and became her husband. They had a baby who was named Dangun. Dangun went on to become the founding father of the first kingdom of Korea.  During Gaecheonjeol, celebrators wear Dangun masks like a mascot.

gaecheonjeol dangun

Celebrations with Dangun masks are a common practice during Gaecheonjeol.

For Gaecheonjeol, celebrations are held all over Korea. It’s a very patriotic holiday involving parades, fireworks, and of course, delicious Korean food. One particular popular food is the Seolleongtang (설렁탕), a beef bone broth soup.Many foreigners and natives alike crowd Youido Park along the Han River to watch a beautiful display of fireworks, much like our Independence Day (July 4th) for Americans.

Ceremonies are traditionally held on the summit of Mount Manisan on Ganghwado Island, where Dangun offered sacrifices to the heavens. On October 3, let’s wish our friends in Korea a relaxing day off from their schedules!