Daily NK has confirmed that North Korean authorities provided children with gifts for Kim Jong Il’s birthday (Feb. 16), one of North Korea’s biggest holidays, despite the nation’s economic woes amid the COVID-19 crisis.

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source in North Hamgyong Province said children in local elementary schools and kindergartens in Hoeryong were given sweets and school supplies on Feb. 14 to mark the 79th “Day of the Shining Star,” as the holiday is called in North Korea. “As the gifts were quite miserable compared to last year, locals have been unable to hide their surprise,” he said.

According to a photo of the presents obtained through the source, the sweets included a bag of candy, two bags of snacks, a bag of bean candies and two rice crackers.

The school supplies included 72 pencils, eight erasers, a set of 12 crayons, a 12-color watercoloring set, two gel ink pens, three ball pens, one pencil sharpener, one pencil case, four rulers and a school supply bin.

The authorities reportedly gave these supplies only to children entering elementary school from the upper class of kindergarten. This indicates times are so tough they are unable to secure sufficient supplies.

However, the authorities wrote on the gift list the line, “A gift sent by the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, our Dear Father, to mark the Day of the Shining Star.” This suggests the goal is to promote unity by stressing how “the Supreme Leader’s love for children remains unchanged” despite the country’s economic difficulties. 

The source said he could sense urgency in this year’s gift, so much so that authorities feel they must give at least something on the birthdays of the country’s late leaders.

Relatedly, North Korean authorities reportedly were unable to provide people with even a single bottle of liquor.

“That [authorities] are just hyping it as the biggest national holiday without providing [gifts] shows that the economic situation of our country (North Korea) isn’t good,” said the source, describing the mood on the ground. “Among themselves, locals criticize that with the authorities calling for self-reliance and self-sufficiency, we’re finally getting what they’re asking for.”

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