Today North Korea celebrates Kim Jong Il’s birthday: known as the “Day of the Shining Star.” In this article, I will try to briefly outline the history of these holidays as its leaders have changed, and the birthday of the man whose ideas served as a prototype for North Korea: Joseph Stalin.
Stalin’s actual birthday was December 18 (or December 6 in the official Julian calendar of the Russian Empire) although he later changed it to December 21: the anniversary of a 1905 uprising in Moscow. This was the day which was celebrated in the USSR.
It is well known that Stalin “did not allow even a shadow of arrogance, conceit, narcissism,” to quote a passage he personally added to his own official biography.
Thus, he had the modesty to limit major celebrations to his jubilees and the ordinary birthday of the “corypheus of all academia” was not celebrated nationwide. Only his 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries – in 1929, 1939 and 1949 – were.
The 1949 celebration took place in the entire recently expanded socialist bloc, including in North Korea. In Pyongyang, poems were composed and meetings were held – all to commemorate the jubilee of the “dearest friend of Korean people.”
KIM IL SUNG’S BIRTHDAY
Naturally, Kim Il Sung learned from his Great Teacher in many ways – including making his birthday a holiday.
Officially, his birthday is on April 15 – though one Russian publication casts a shadow of doubt on this date. A book “Korea in the Sea of Fire” (Корея в огне войны) written by a group of authors with access to various Russian archives, directly states that his birthday is, in fact, April 12.
Unfortunately, the authors did not include any links to the document to substantiate these claims. However, this may actually mean that they saw a reference to a then-classified document which they could not have mentioned.
Kim Il Sung learned from his Great Teacher in many ways
In any case, the official birthday of the Great Leader was and is April 15. It seems the first celebration of it took place in 1950, with a visit to Kim Il Sung’s official birthplace in Mangyongdae.
A celebration of Kim’s first jubilee in charge of the country was quite massive. His heavily edited biography was published in state press on April 10, 1952, followed by a book about “Commander Kim Il Sung” being released on April 15.
For the rest of the 1950s, celebrations were sporadic: some years, the newspaper would cover visits to Mangyongdae, other years they did not.
In 1962, the next “proper” celebrations of Kim’s jubilee took place. For one day, the country experienced an echo of what was to come: a massive celebration approaching the level of the everyday personality cult which would emerge after 1967.
In Spring of that year, the Monolithic ideological system was established, and the celebrations continued every year – until in 1994, when Kim Il Sung died.
For decades, the official exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the DPRK won was 2.16/1
ENTER KIM JONG IL
Kim Jong Il’s birthday – February 16 – was first mentioned in the Rodong Sinmun in 1972, but in a rather cryptic form. On December 14, the newspaper announced the results of elections to the Supreme People’s Assembly (100.0% participated, 100.0% endorsed the candidates), with Kim Il Sung running in the district 216.
In later years, “216” became the key number for Kim Jong Il’s birthday (2nd month, 16th day). Apart from rather innocent things, like 216 becoming the official designation of the KPA Navy, the cult surrounding the birthday of the Party Center, as Kim Jong Il was called in that time, expanded to economic affairs: for decades, the official exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the DPRK won was 2.16/1.
The unofficial celebration of Kim Jong Il’s birthdays began in the 1970s, and at the same time, his birth year was adjusted from 1941 to 1942 – to create a nice-looking 30-year gap between him and his father. Given how North Korea often falsifies history for aesthetic reasons, one should not really be too surprised.
But it was only in 1995, after Kim Il Sung had died, that Kim Jong Il’s birthday became another “great holiday of the nation” (despite the preparations for it beginning in 1992) and only after his death the holiday was given a name: “the Day of the Shining Star.”
Unofficial celebration of Kim Jong Il’s birthdays began in the 1970s
KIM JONG UN’S BIRTHDAY
One of the things which is so puzzling about the day of Kim Jong Un’s birth is that his official year of birth has not been announced.
Even the harshest and most secretive communist regimes – like that of Enver Hoxha in Albania – would not have thought of it, and one could hardly point at any other dictatorship which has kept its leader’s birthday a secret.
His aunt has stated that he was born (quite fittingly) in 1984, while there were rumors in Pyongyang that he was born in 1983. This is likely another great North Korean mystery.
The secrecy surrounding the year is not the only strange thing here. One can only guess why this day is still not a national holiday – despite being unofficially celebrated.
Here one can make a hypothesis, which may appear to a joke, but for lack of a better explanation, may seem to be valid.
In the Korean language, a holiday celebrated on January 8 would be the “holiday of 1.8” (1.8절). The numbers 1 and 8 spelled together could be read as“ship phal” (십팔) and are thus dangerously close to one of the most common swear words in Korean: ssibal (씨발, literally “bitch”).
Thus, in order to avoid unpleasantries Kim has not yet declared his birthday an official holiday – and unfortunately for him, this date is now too well known to change it to something else.
Today North Korea celebrates Kim Jong Il’s birthday: known as the "Day of the Shining Star." In this article, I will try to briefly outline the history of these holidays as its leaders have changed, and the birthday of the man whose ideas served as a prototype for North Korea: Joseph Stalin.Stalin’s actual birthday was December 18 (or December 6 in the official Julian calendar of the
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.