Bringing in the New Year in North Korea
'Beauty in cold temperatures is beauty' - Joseph Brodsky, Watermark
The first snow is on the ground near Pyongyang and the country is settling in for a long winter. ‘Tis the season for those shots of Pyongyang’s streets devoid of people, except for the occasional snowman. If you weren’t on vacation, you’d stay inside too with Siberian winds bearing down from the continent. Yet clear skies, frigid air, and a fortuitous dusting of snow can make for some of the best photography, so dress warmly if you’re coming to Pyongyang in winter.
'Where then are all of Pyongyang’s citizens?' one might ask. Well, there is still work to be done in winter as Korean work units settle their accounts for the past year and prepare for the next. While not at work, people spend their time in relative warmth of home or the local bathhouses in each neighborhood. Like South Korea and Japan, saunas are popular. Some do brave the cold to go ice skating, couples on dates and children, or ice fishing, the winter pastime of Pyongyang’s legions of retirees, anglers for all seasons, sitting around small holes cut in the ice, their footprints crisscrossing across the frozen Taedong River.
Pyongyang brings in the New Year just like any major city across the globe. In the late hours of the last day of the year, crowds begin to gather on boardwalk near Kim Il Sung Square facing the Juche Tower on the opposite bank awaiting the firework display to come.
Without any accompanying political demonstrations, which sometimes accompany other firework displays during the year and deny prime viewing spots to many, this is purely a civilian affair. Politics will wait till tomorrow. People from all walks of life, with their families and friends, mingle on the square along with foreigner residents and visitors. As the clock strikes twelve, the dark sky is lit aflame with a magnificent show, dazzling young and old alike.
With the New Year will come new policies, directives, and goals, generally laid out in the DPRK’s annual New Year’s Day Address. This is a tradition started by President Kim Il Sung, who annually recorded a message to be played on the radio and published in the newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party on the first day of the year. Between 1995-2012, the address took the form of a Joint Editorial in all of Korea’s newspapers. In 2013, the tradition of the annual speech was revived.
In the first weeks of January, Koreans young and old are expected to study the contents of the New Year Address in schools, at work, and at home. Around town, you may see people reading the printed version of the address intently in the papers, copying it into notebooks, and memorizing parts of it to recite as a road map for the next year.
There is even a New Year song entitled 'Let the New Year Snow Fall' (설눈아 내려라), for which you can watch the music video below. Make sure to pay attention between 02:15 to 02:21 for the best part.
No plans for New Year's yet? Come join us in Pyongyang on our New Year's Eve Tour (December 28-January 2/3; from 1650 EUR) to see the fireworks, hear that slap bass, and learn what is in the works for 2018 in North Korea.