Filial Piety and Parent’s Day in Korea

Parent’s Day, or Eo-peo-i Nal (어버이 날), is May 8th in South Korea. As you can imagine, this holiday takes on a deeper meaning here in a country that has a long history of Confucianism. It has been an official holiday here since 1973, with the traditional gift giving of red carnations. Interestingly enough, I’ve heard that nowadays the modern gift giving has expanded to oriental medicine therapy and even plastic surgery gift certificates have become popular!

Filial piety, or hyodo (효도) was traditionally thought as one of the highest forms of character in Korean society. According to Confucianism, filial piety suggests five rules for life:

    1. Show the utmost respect to your parents
    2. Always take good care of your body, which is their inheritance to you
    3. Advise and guide parents wisely in case they make a mistake
    4. Contribute well to the society so as to make your parents’ name proud (another reason I think my students take a Morality/Ethics class in middle school)
    5. Keep up your devotion through ceremonies and rituals when your parents pass away.

                     Here is a snapshot from one of my Korean textbooks on filial piety:

Filial Piety or Hyodo in Korean society

To love and obey your parents was stressed repeatedly from one dynasty to the other from the Silla Kingdom’s (57 B.C. – A.D. 935) “Five Secular Injunctions” (Sesokogye) all the way down to the Joseon Dynasty’s (A.D. 1392-1910) “Three Bonds and Five Relations” (Samgang Oryun), roughly equivalent to the Bible’s Ten Commandments. The great scholar-king Sejong (1397-1450) for example, ordered books on filial piety to be widely distributed throughout the country, making it the basis of social norms to maintain order. Examples of the best filial sons and daughters were praised in every town, becoming legends. During those times even the king dared not go against the elderly in fear of losing public respect and trust. [1]

Giving a carnation to her grandmother, halmeoni (할머니)

Just like the celebration of Children’s Day, many museums and parks are open for free. Mainly led by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, many local governments hold annual Parents’ Day ceremonies to award sons and daughters who examplify hyodo in towns and villages. For example, last year the First Lady honored two mothers at the Blue House (their version of our White House, which is actually blue!) and invited them to tea in honor of raising such great sons. Here is the article for that story!Big temples and other cultural institutes throw big ceremonies to invite the elderly of the town to enjoy the day. Children, aside from the carnations, will also put on shows on dance and songs for their families.

I love my mama!