My May…

May is a big month, and a positive one too. After a lot of bad news this year, the sun has suddenly begun to shine, and we’re encouraged to enjoy ourselves.

Korean and English people find different things to celebrate in the heart of spring but the feelings of frivolity, rejuvenation, and unity are the same.

For Korean people in Korea, England, and worldwide, May is a month of families, togetherness, and respect. It brings with it national holidays Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday, as well as other celebrated days of Coming-of-Age Day, Parent’s Day and Teacher’s Day.

Although we don’t have these special days in England, our May 2011 has begun with a happy family theme following the Royal wedding just days before, as well as the relaxation of a long bank holiday weekend.

Korean May has a tone of appreciation and honour across all social hierarchies, religions, and groups. During the May that I spent there, I was able to praise my students, and enjoyed a fun day with them on Children’s Day. Equally, I could show my gratitude to my colleagues and friends on Teacher’s Day.

The wonderful festivities surrounding Buddha’s Birthday were not reserved for Buddhists, but celebrated by all. I visited my local temple, and was told to decorate and write a lucky message on a lantern. I found this to be a calming and spiritual experience.

That weekend, Seoul was equally illuminating and spellbinding, with a huge parade featuring lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours. What a beautiful dedication this was!

For English people, May is steeped with bizarre traditions ranging from Cheese Rolling to Mystery Plays. As strange as these are, and although not exactly at the forefront of the mainstream, they are arguably as important as Korea’s May traditions, and are more alive today than ever (just last year I took part in modern Mystery Play “The Southwark Mysteries”.)

I believe that they have Pagan origins, but the one thing I am certain of is my adoration for the eccentricity of the serious look on someone’s face as they carefully roll a Stilton round down the street. Just as a six foot lotus lantern could only appear in Korea, this image is an inherently English one, and both bring equal fun and delight.

Modern community mystery play "Southwark Mysteries"

My personal favourite tradition that comes with the beginning of May is that of mayploe dancing. As I actually did this as a child, the links to Korea’s “Children’s Day” on May 5th immediately spring to mind. What could be more idyllic than dancing carefree around a maypole on a sunny May afternoon? This epitomises May’s charm perfectly.

I will certainly be abiding by the UK bank holidays this May, and although I won’t have the privilege of observing the Korean ones, will definitely find ways to celebrate Korea’s special “May Days” here in London, and hope that you will too.

Be sure to be particularly nice to your children, teachers, parents, and anyone turning 19 this month. Oh, why not be extra-nice to everyone? It is May, after all!

  • UK May Bank Holidays: 2nd (May Day) and 30th (Spring Bank Holiday)
  • Korean May Days: 5th (Children’s Day) and 4th-10th (Buddha’s Birthday)
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