Sports Day (school-specific)
Classes are canceled and students spend the day competing in sports. I probably would have dreaded this day when I was in middle school, but as a teacher it was awesome. I watched my students do relay races, play soccer, limbo, and compete in a number of “sports” I had never seen—including one where two people stand in the middle of tires tied to the opposite ends of a rope and try to pop a balloon with a rubber hammer, and another that involved mass amounts of girls sticking their heads under each other’s legs. Students were really surprised that we don't have this day in America-- it's an annual event for each elementary, middle, and high school in Korea and is used by other groups as well. I've been to "Sports Day" for my host family's church and another one for my host mom's high school reunion.
English Festival (school-specific)
Students perform English skits and pop songs for their peers. Most of the skits were shortened versions of fairy tales or Disney classics, but one of the more ambitious groups did one involving Korean Power Rangers, and another did a modern Korean twist on Romeo and Juliet where the couple meet in a PC Bang and die after bowing many times in a Buddhist temple. The older students at my school performed choreographed dances in matching variations on the school uniform while singing English pop songs. At the end, they announced prizes for the best skits and songs, which resulted in a lot of tears from really excited and really disappointed students.
Teacher’s Day (national)
Students (or, more generally, the Parent-Teacher Association) give small presents to teachers. At my school this meant we each got a corsage, a small yellow melon, two hallabongs (a citrus fruit native to Jeju), designer socks, and a piece of cake in a fancy Peter Rabbit-decorated box. And half of the day off! America need to adopt this holiday. Here are some of my favorite girls. The two in the middle delivered cake and flowers:
Buddha’s Birthday (national)
A day of no school and free lunch at Buddhist temples. I went to Jeju’s most famous temple with my host parents, an experience that did not resemble my prior very quiet, centered-feeling visits to other temples in the least. Here, Buddha’s birthday was definitely a holiday. Street vendors sold double-fried corndogs, cotton candy, dried cuttlefish, and red-bean filled pastries; peppy Buddhist rock music played over loudspeakers; in the main hall of the temple uncomfortable looking children performed a sort of pageant for a talkative audience of proud parents and video camera-toting monks. In the basement of the temple, a long line stretched out the door for people waiting for the free lunch of rice mixed with vegetables and red pepper paste.