Why there's no big birthday celebration for Kim Jong Un — yet

It seems he needs to earn it

North Korea loves an excuse for a good, state-sponsored party. But the Supreme Leader didnt get one for his birthday.

On the birthdays of the country's two previous leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, there are flowers, military parades, and even fighter jet flyovers. These are full-on national holidays, so citizens can enjoy the days off. But that wasn’t the case last week for the birthday of the current Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, who's thought to have turned 35.


He wasn’t even in the country. Instead, he traveled to Beijing for his fourth visit with President Xi Jinping in less than a year.

Kim took power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011. In the years since, there have been no public displays to mark January 8, widely believed to be his birth date, except for the now-infamous birthday song delivered to Kim by former NBA player Dennis Rodman in 2014. And even then, the North Korean public was told only that Rodman had sung a song showing his “reverence” for Kim.

The absence of a public holiday for Kim’s birthday, or even a mention of it on the official state calendar, is odd considering the no-expense-spared celebrations for those of his dad and grandpa. But, says Jean H. Lee, director of the Korea program at Wilson Center, it’s most likely that it’s just too early in the development of Kim Jong Un’s personality cult to see the establishment of a national holiday on his birthday.

“The language around even establishing a decree… to make these birthdays a national holiday, requires that you have a certain number of accomplishments or achievements,” Lee told VICE News Tonight. “So, if you look at it that way, there probably are a couple more things that Kim Jong Un needs to accomplish.”

This segment originally aired Jan. 8, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.