Public holidays

Last Thursday, South Koreans had a public holiday for Children’s Day. Only the week before, the government decreed an extra holiday on the Friday, so many of my colleagues travelled near or far (one as far as Japan). I travelled near, to a neighboring province, to visit someone I knew from my first time here (who showed me more of the local sights than a solo foreign tourist would ever have managed).

Before I left, I mentioned on Facebook that it was a public holiday and that I was travelling. One of my sisters commented that South Korea seems to have more public holidays than Australia. After checking, I found that that is indeed the case, but there are complications on both sides.

Australia has seven national public holidays – New Year’s Day, Australia Day (26 Jan), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day (25 Apr), Christmas Day and Boxing Day – and a variable number of state public holidays. New South Wales has four of the latter – Easter Eve and ‘Easter Sunday’ (which has no practical result for the overwhelming majority), the Queen’s (non-)Birthday (the second Monday in June) and Labour Day (the first Monday in October). Other states and territories have a different number of different holidays on different dates (see here).

South Korea has 15 national public holidays – New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year (three days in late Jan-mid Feb), Independence Movement Day (1 Mar), Children’s Day (5 May), Buddha’s Birthday (May), Memorial Day (6 Jun), Liberation Day (15 Aug), Lunar Thanksgiving (three days in mid-Sep-early Oct), National Foundation Day (3 Oct), Hangeul Proclamation Day (9 Oct) and Christmas Day.

Four of New South Wales’ public holidays (Good Friday, Easter Monday, the Queen’s Birthday and Labour Day) fall on specified days of the week. The other five fall on a different day of the week each year. There is a two-in-seven chance that any one of them falls on a Saturday or Sunday, and it is more-or-less certain that at least one of them does. Recent practice is that the relevant government decrees an additional holiday on the Monday (as for New Year’s Day 2017) or Tuesday (as for Christmas Day/Boxing Day this year).

None of South Korea’s public holidays fall on a specified day of the week, and it is certain that at least one of them will fall on a Saturday or Sunday. As far as I know, an extra holiday is decreed only for Lunar New Year or Lunar Thanksgiving. This year, the first day of the Lunar New Year holidays fell on a Sunday, so the following Wednesday was decreed as an extra holiday. By comparison, this year, Buddha’s Birthday falls on a Saturday and Hangeul Proclamation Day and Christmas Day on Sundays, and there is no sign of a extra holiday in those cases.

All of this has to be balanced with the fact that daily and weekly working hours are longer in South Korea (for most workers – foreign staff at universities get a pretty good deal!), and that annual leave is shorter (standardly 15 days in South Korea v 4 weeks in Australia). In theory, a South Korean worker gets fewer than 30 days in total (15 days annual leave + fewer than 15 public holidays) and an Australian worker gets at least 29 days in total (20 days annual leave + at least 9 public holidays, ignoring Easter Eve and ‘Easter Sunday’). (Even worse, the calendar which the same sister gave me for Christmas reads ‘Easter Saturday’ and ‘Easter Sunday’, which I corrected.)


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