PYONGYANG, North Korea — In North Korea, the birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, is the biggest holiday of the year, as important to North Koreans as Thanksgiving is to Americans.
This year, for what would have been the late president's 100th birthday, North Koreans have three days off. Thousands came to Pyongyang's Kimilsungia-Kimjongilia Exhibition House (a begonia is named for Kim's late son, Kim Jong Il) to pass a warm spring day in their Sunday best to have family portraits taken before the elaborate displays of flowers on show in central Pyongyang.
The centerpiece is the violet orchid called the Kimilsungia, named after Kim by Indonesia's dictator, Sukarno, that has become an integral part of the ever-present state-sponsored propaganda that surrounds the late leader.
The flower show not only features some 30,000 potted plants — most of them Kimilsungia flowers or the bright red Kimjongilia begonia named after his son, late leader Kim Jong Il — but also the latest achievements North Korea's government is seeking to promote.
The display sponsored by Pyongyang's urban planners includes miniature models of the new apartment towers built in front of the hill where the Kims' bronze statues lord over the city, while another cultivated by a firm that is providing most of the cement for the construction shows off a signed note from new leader Kim Jong Un.
The exhibit of flowers cultivated by the State Academy of Sciences features a mock-up of the Unha-3 rocket that broke up over the Yellow Sea in a controversial launch Friday. One teenager stood primly next to the rocket as her father snapped her photo with his cell phone.
The largest display is a huge blanket of flowers replicating a unified Korea.Comment on this story
The exhibition hall was packed Tuesday with parents toting toddlers clad in traditional Korean outfits, mini military uniforms and tweed suits and armed with digital cameras and camcorders.
Groups of soldiers posed together for photos in front of the display sponsored by a unit of the Korean People's Army, while students still in their school uniforms snapped photos of one another as the Kim Jong Un ode "Footsteps" blared in the background.
Outside, vendors were selling everything from hot dogs on sticks to strawberry-flavored ice cream sandwiches, as well as Minnie Mouse backpacks, and pots, planters and watering cans.