The 2018 Winter Olympics came to a close on Sunday, Feb. 25. The closing ceremony at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium featured many performances, but you might have a question about some of their meanings. So, what's the meaning of the turtle in the Olympics closing ceremony? It's deeper than you might think.
The closing ceremony featured a special performance to remember those who aren't able to be there, according to NPR. This tradition began in 2016 during the Rio Summer Olympics. The Korean version of this remembrance (featuring the turtle that represents a journey between life and death) is called "A Journey to Remember," and it is broken up into three sections. The bright colors and the performance come together to create a beautifully symbolic remembrance of those who cannot be there.
The first of the three sections is called "Turtle and Kkoktu," and it focuses on the turtle as he begins a journey across both life and death accompanied by kkoktu puppets. Kkoktu puppets are used in Korean culture during funerals, and the kkoktu figures are believed to care for the deceased in the immediate afterlife. In the closing ceremony performance in PyeongChang, the colorful turtle is in the middle of the procession encircled by kkoktu puppets holding dandelions, which is immediately followed by more jovial dancing kkoktu puppets.
The next step on the turtle's symbolic journey is called "The Time Tunnel," per NPR. This is the part of the ceremony that sees the turtle actually break the barrier between life and death as he journeys through the Time Tunnel. The meaning of the turtle crossing the boundary between life and death isn't difficult to understand, but it is an important and symbolic moment that commemorates those who are no longer with us during the closing ceremony.
The third and final section of "A Journey to Remember" is called "Eternal Remembrance." The kkoktu puppets seemingly serve their greatest purpose here as the turtle crosses over from life into death. The kkoktu puppets are there to cut through the confusion and angst of death, and they do so in the closing ceremony performance by dancing and saying goodbye to the turtle as he goes toward the heavens. The performance ends with the turtle finally passing on as he flies off into the sky.
PyeongChang's rendition of the moment of remembrance was beautiful and moving as it followed many of the Korean funereal traditions.
It was a change from the inaugural moment of remembrance in Rio two years ago. According to the International Olympic Committee's official factsheet of the 2016 closing ceremony, a place of private mourning was provided in Olympic Village during the games. This was a first in modern Olympic history, and it featured a stone from Olympia in order to let athletes mourn deceased individuals in a "special and dignified" way.
Continuing with the theme of remembrance, the Olympic committee decided to also add in this "moment of private recognition" for the in-person and at-home viewers of the closing ceremony. The idea to remember loved ones who are no longer with us and "who have touched our lives" was the inspiration for this moment of remembrance, and it seems to be a welcome addition to the closing ceremony.
While the performances of remembrance during the Olympics closing ceremony might differ depending on the host city, the sentiment remains the same. Athletes who make it to the Olympics have trained their whole lives for that moment, and sometimes the most important people in their lives don't always live to see this special dream achieved. With the moment of remembrance, the Olympians can remember those people whom they hold close in their hearts, and everyone can remember loved ones who have passed.