Being one of the only atheist countries in the world, North Koreans miss out on all the Christmas joy every year. Their most popular leaders’ birthdays are on the other hand one of the grandest holidays of the year. All this is not surprising given North Korea’s reputation. There is a fact that may be more of an eyebrow raiser.
New Years is widely accepted and celebrated over in the Hermit Kingdom. “North Koreans are not allowed to celebrate any holiday in the Gregorian calendar but the New Year,” Aliou Niane, a Guinean who studied in Wonsan, North Korea from 1982-1987, told NK News. However, there may be a slight but obvious distinction between New Years in North Korea and with the rest of the world. For starters, in North Korea, New Years was reserved for honouring the country’s leaders. At many universities, North Korean students would wake their foreign classmates up and make them bring flowers to the bronze statue of Kim Il Sung in Wonsan to praise him. The foreign students were asked to give thanks to the benefactor of their past achievements and to pray for guidance throughout the New Years. The foreign students were appalled, but did what they were told.
Some other New Year traditions are however quite similar. Spending time with families and friends during this holiday has become a norm even in the communist regime. On New Year’s Eve, restaurants would be filled with cheery North Koreans drowning themselves with beer and soju (rice liquor). North Koreans, living in the capital city, would also watch live performance shows at Mansudae Art Theater and Pyongyang Indoor Stadium.
A dazzling show of fireworks light up the night sky as thousands of people gather nearby the Juche tower and the Taedong river in Pyongyang. Friends, families and couples stand in awe, their mouths closed but hearts opened. The sky represents their lives, pitch black throughout the year. But on this very special day, they are given a chance to live almost like every other human being on Earth, to celebrate the holiday all of mankind has in common.