North Korea’s 'Day of the Sun' canceled due to rain

Celebration of the life of national founder Kim Il Sung is one of the country's most important holidays.
By Jieun Kim and Soyoung Kim for RFA Korean
North Korea’s 'Day of the Sun' canceled due to rain In this Feb. 16, 2023 photo, people visit the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to mark the birthday of Kim Jong Il, a day known as the "Day of the Shining Star," in Pyongyang.

They prepared for almost a month, practicing for the “songs of loyalty” competition and massive choreographed dances, fixing food and decorating cities – only to have officials call off the “Day of the Sun,” arguably North Korea’s most important holiday, due to a forecast for rain.

The April 15th holiday marks the birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung, and festivities have never been canceled due to inclement weather since it was designated a holiday in 1997, sources in the country said.

Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the country’s current leader Kim Jong Un, is revered in North Korea for leading the country in its infancy, instilling the “juche” principle of self-reliance and for his exploits as a guerilla leader who fought against Japanese colonial rule before he came to power in 1948.

“They say it was all canceled on account of rain, but I’ve never experienced a cancellation of a national event like this before,” said a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “It’s even been held in the middle of the night in heavy snowfall in the middle of blizzards.”

In this April 16, 2013 photo, a man walks past portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Jong-ll and Kim Il-sung at an exhibition celebrating the 101st birthday of founder Kim Il-sung, in Beijing. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Citizens thought the cancellation was unusual and suspected that rain might not be the true cause, a source in the northern province of Ryanggang said.

“Some welcomed the opportunity to get some rest, but others think that maybe the foundations of the three-generation dynasty that started with Kim Il Sung could be crumbling,” he said. 

Even with the cancellation, citizens still flocked to patriotic monuments to lay flowers in tribute, according to the first source.

The canceled events included the “songs of loyalty” contest, held in each province, public mass dances in town squares, sports competitions and street singing parades.

Residents were shocked by the decision, which erased a month’s work of preparation.

“The paper flags of our republic that had been raised on every street were lowered,” said the first source. “The square which was to be the center of the celebrations was eerily quiet.”

Empty streets

In northern Ryanggang, the Day of the Sun celebrations amounted to a single song performance at the entrance of a local university, the source there said.

“The streets were deserted,” he said. “The circle-shaped dance line marked on the town square by the Women’s League was clearly visible in such an empty space.”

Kim Jong Un usually makes a public appearance on the Day of the Sun at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, his grandfather’s final resting place as well as that of his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il.

But on the 16th, the state-run Korea Central News Agency and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that he was not there and senior officials presented a floral basket in his name. Instead Kim attended a ceremony on the night of the 16th, celebrating the completion of the latest batch of 10,000 new homes in the capital Pyongyang, part of a widely publicized national project to build 50,000 new homes by the end of 2025.

In this Feb. 16, 2023 photo, people visit the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to mark the birthday of Kim Jong Il, known as the "Day of the Shining Star", in Pyongyang. Credit: Kim Won Jin/AFP

The leader’s absence from Kumsusan was unusual but was not intended to emphasize his independence, so that he could escape the shadow of his forebears, said David Maxwell of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Secretary Kim is [always] trying to show the image of a strong leader who works hard for the people,” he said. “I think he's trying to show that he is a strong leader doing good things for the Korean people in the north. So I think that that’s real, and the focus is to generate his positive image and I think that's why we’re seeing these types of events highly publicized.”

The leader’s emphasis on promoting housing construction projects instead of worshiping his ancestors on the Day of the Sun indicates that North Korea is facing economic difficulties,” said former CIA analyst Soo Kim.

She said that Kim Jong Un was trying to convey to North Koreans that he understands their economic difficulties and is taking action. 

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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