Re post of last year’s Holiday feature! For Seoul 2013 listings of events for Buddha’s Birthday check HERE

Lotus lanterns outside the 관악구 government office.

One thing that I found disappointing about Korea when I first started coming was the city-wide lack of traditional holiday celebrations. Living in Japan I was able to participate in many celebrations, parades, festivals, and occasions to wear traditional clothing, but in Korea even though they always talk about it or promote it abroad…. those things are more behind closed doors or just Calendar holidays that do not bring about anything very exciting or “cultural” for outsiders~ with the exception of Buddha’s Birthday and the beautiful Lotus Lantern Festival held in his honor!

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The first records of the Lotus Lantern Festival in Korea is recorded in the year 866~890.  Since then, depending on the ruling emperor the lantern festival has had a place in and out of Korean history. During Goryuh period of Korea ( approximately years 918∼1392 ) Korea became a Buddhist country, and there were detailed records of the lantern festivities recorded by the Emperor ‘Taejo’ (918~943). The popularity of this  festival was high and low throughout Korea’s history depending on the ruler of Korea during the time period~ In 1975 The day of the festival was announced a national holiday and the lantern festival gained popularity with modern Korea as a festive celebration regardless of your religion.

** click on smaller images in this post for a larger view**

This is a holiday celebrated throughout East Asia in honor of Prince Siddhartha Gautama‘s Birthday~ Gautama Buddha is the spiritual teacher on whose teachings the Buddhist religion is based.

Why so much pink? Pink is considered the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity and is associated with the Great Buddha himself.

Buddah’s Birthday 석가탄신일 (the day of Buddha’s birthday) or 부처님 오신 날 (the day when Buddha arrived) is celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar so the date changes, but it usually falls sometime in April or May.  Once the month arrives you will start to see colorful lanterns from local temples adorn the streets and parks in the surrounding areas, they add a beautiful splash of color to the streets everywhere! The temples themselves become FILLED with lit lanterns, sometimes covering the area overhead like a blanket of colorful lights.

Although Christianity is rapidly growing within Korea and resulting in dwindling numbers of practicing Buddhists (Wikipedia states Buddhism is practiced by about 23% of the country’s population currently)  It is still a national holiday and celebrations/parades/etc are often attended by all religions wishing to enjoy the beautiful lights or keep the tradition alive.


Viewing the lanterns at the Temple in Borame Park. These stay up for a few weeks leading up to the holiday.

I am lucky enough to live next door to to the large Borame Park which has a very nice Buddhist temple inside that is a very short walk uphill.  This temple strung lights all around the park for the weeks leading up to the actual birthday, and at night where absolutely beautiful! I went to the part for a walk almost every night that month, why can’t they just leave these up year-round? (._.) *sigh*  The week before the holiday lots of families came at night to pray, usually the temple is very quite at night~ but for this holiday it gets very lively!

(Full list of Buddhist temples in Korea is up on Wikipedia HERE if you want to find one in your area!)

Aside from going to the temples at night to enjoy the lights, Korea also has a few other thing like culture fairs and lantern parades a week before the birthday!  The parades are a LOT of fun, so try and catch one if you can. This year was my first time attending and it was amazing!

Usually the temples from all around the city march down the street at night with amazing lanterns in beautiful outfits or traditional clothing~ it was so nice to see so many Hanboks! You hardly ever get to see them in my area, but I love them!

Huge lanterns in the shape of things like Buddha, dragons, etc also are moved down the streets (like floats) and the detail is stunning!! It is hard to believe that they are all made of just paper and wire!

This year I attended the Yeon Deung Hwae Lotus Lantern Festival parade which takes place around Dongdaemun leading to the GIANT Jogye-sa Temple.  The and celebration lasts an hour or two, ending at the temple where everyone gathers and offers prayers within the temple and to small shrines set up.  If you miss the actual parade night do not worry, they keep the large lantern floats out on display for the whole week at night… which actually makes it a lot easier to take photos since they are sitting still!

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According to Korean sites, in 1955 near Jogye-sa 조계사 temple, the new lantern festival as we know today ignited. The route of the parade during this time was from Yeo-euido to Jogye temple (in Jongro), but from 1996 the route changed to – From Dongdaemoon stadium to Jogye temple which is the path they still use today. This event has become one of the most participated national street festivals in Korea, you can see giant lanterns and floats of sacred animals to cute Buddhist monk characters to even cartoon characters. Every year the lanterns have gotten more elaborate and creative~ some traditional and some very modern!

Jongno Street is filled with Buddhist shops~ The night of the festival they all stay open late so you can go in and shop or just gaze at the beautiful lanterns for sale.

 Ah I want a giant one for my room so badly, then every day could be my own Lotus Lantern Festival lol

Vendors selling lotus lanterns that light up in many sizes and colors line the streets with little booth or carts so you do can buy one (the price rages from around 8,000 won to 20,000 won depending on the size!) walk with them to the temple as the parade makes it way down the street.

Nara bought me a pretty purple lantern this year for my room! ♥

The night is lit up like a colorful dream world ♥ I wish it was like this all the time!

The floats featured in the parades are made from materials like silk and traditional Korean paper called hanji.

ahhh they even had a Little Prince Lantern!!


All of the local temples come out to march together for the Jogyesa Temple Lotus Lantern Parade in Seoul


Monks giving out free lanterns

The parade leads right into the Jogye-sa Temple where everyone takes group temple photographs and celebrates by offering prayers in the temple or mini shrines set up, dancing, singing, etc.

The Jogye-sa Temple has the most amazing GIANT golden Buddha

 this year was so crowded I could hardly move or take photos without getting bumped everyplace *_* busy!!

Inside the temple they had so many areas of donated lanterns that you could walk inside and enjoy

Surrounded by lanterns! Each “Area” set up inside the temple had a section made up of different lantern colors or shapes.

Main area of the tent had traditional dances and music going on~

and the whole HUGE temple was COMPLETELY covered above with lanterns! Seriously, the area these covered was giant!


So yes, if you plan on visiting Korea you should absolutely try and schedule it around this month!  Even if you can not make the festival, the city is still strung up with beautiful lights at night so it is worth it!

LINKS + INFO ~ Buddha’s Birthday 석가탄신일 + Lotus Lantern Festival

Upcoming Dates for Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea
2012    ~    28 May
2013    ~     17 May
2014    ~     6 May
2015    ~    25 May
2016    ~    14 May

♥ ♥ ♥ Event listing for 2013

Big thanks to Nara who had his camera with him to snap some of these beautiful photos for me~ Even with all the pushing and low light they still came out super beautiful, I only had my cell phone camera at the time so thank goodness!

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27 Responses to “Buddha’s Birthday 석가탄신일 + Lotus Lantern Festival”

  • Custom avatar Ashley:

    I love this post.
    Mostly because I’m a practicing Buddhist and think this is beautiful 🙂
    Woulda love to have seen this myself, thanks for sharing!

    • Elle:

      xoxoxo So glad you enjoyed it! The Temples are amazing here, so eventually I want to visit and share photos with a few 😀

  • Custom avatar Leanne:

    Most of my father’s coworkers are Korean and my family is Buddhist so if they ever think of having a business tripl I will definitely have a say in it!
    These are beautiful views.
    Thank you for the blog! I will be leaving the US for vacation the first time next year and this blog will definitely affect my choice in location. 🙂

    • Elle:

      So glad to hear! Yes, if you can time it around this holiday I think you will enjoy it so much~ we don’t have many holidays like this here, so it makes it extra special when it happens ♥ As Buddhists you should check out the temples here for sure, they are extremely colorful compared to some places and very beautiful~ one of my favorite things about it here actually 🙂

  • All of those paper lanterns, lotuses, and animals are to die for! What a gorgeous celebration. If only my birthday were that important! Hehe.

    • Elle:

      If you rise up from the water in a giant pink lotus I will totally throw a huge party for you on your b-day Kelsea hehehe XD

  • Custom avatar Kate:

    wow~ i didn’t know that Korea has Buddhist festival~
    the lanterns so so beautiful~~~~
    would love to visit Korea just for this~ hehe

    btw what camera ur fiance uses for the shots?
    the pictures looks good even in low light~

    ps: i just stumbled on your blog and i’m loving it already~ <3

    • Elle:

      Thank you! Yes, this festival is so beautiful 😀 It is my favorite ♥ Ah Nara uses a Cannon 5D when he takes photos, it is just very heavy so I never borrow it myself to use haha

  • wow~! all those lanterns are amazing~! so beautiful! ^^

  • Custom avatar Megan:

    Oh wow, I was in Seoul in May (just for a couple days mini-trip while I was visiting Japan) and I ran into that temple you have pictured (the one with really colorful lanterns and the big tree in the middle). Since it was such a whirlwind trip, I never did figure out what the reason was for them. Now I know. Thanks 😀

  • Custom avatar Amitioa chakma:

    Elle Very nice collection,its amazing i like to visit korea some day during Buddha Birth day festival…keep it up.

  • Custom avatar Bunny:

    I came to this article from the one about the Lantern festival. I really enjoyed learning about this celebration, but I have to be really nitpicky here and say this: while some people practice Buddhism as though it were a faith, it is, in fact, a philosophy. Though Christianity may be taking over Korea religiously, I don’t think Buddhism will ever disappear. From my understanding, it is the essence of Korean civilization alongside the Tao, much like it once was in China before the communist overhaul.

    I think that Buddha’s birthday will always be celebrated by Korea because of this. It would be kind of weird if it ever went away completely.

    • Elle:

      Perhaps you misunderstood my comment about the decreasing numbers of Buddhists here…? I never meant that it will totally vanish 😀 I dont think I ever said they would stop celebrating it as well, it has been a National Holiday since 1975! While the amount of actual practicing Buddhists in Korea is being overcome by Christianity, this festival here is promoted nowadays as cultural event primarily so it will never totally go away!

      You are correct that ideals from these things are still veeery much present in modern society today of course, but I say it is primarily *Confucian Values* that are noticeably ingrained in the culture still with the current generation as it modernizes~ Social hierarchy and respect of elders, these are the main things that are extremely present here and will remain for quite some time…although in Korea I think it often does way more harm vs good. Thats a whole new can of worms though lol

  • Custom avatar chia:

    Will the shopping centres be open on Buddha’s birthday this year? 17 May 2013. I plan to visit seoul around this time. Thanks

    • Elle:

      some things may be closed, but generally everything has been open as usual for us the previous years 🙂

  • Custom avatar Rae B:

    Loved this post last year, still love it this year. The lanterns are so beautiful and what detail! what skill! They’re something I love looking and Something I’d love to see in person some day… I would absolutely get myself one of those pretty mini lotus lanterns ^_^

  • Custom avatar Meagan:

    The lanterns are beautiful, but the little prince is my favourite! So cute 🙂

  • Custom avatar Rachel:

    Thank you for reposting this up 😀 Stumbled upon your blog and am visiting Seoul in around the 18th, thanks so much for the post otherwise I would have missed the lantern exhibitions since they are slated to end on that weekend.
    The photos look absolutely stunning, love the colours! 😀

  • Custom avatar AngelaRenee:

    I love this post!!! All the pictures are beautiful!!!!! I am totally looking for a Lotus lantern to buy to hang in my house!!! They are too cool!!!

  • I love how South Korea has such beautiful festivals and events!

    • Elle:

      This is one of the only big proper cultural festivals sadly, but it is so very beautiful at least! 🙂 I have new photos from this years event, I will be posting them very soon!!

  • Custom avatar Gil:

    Hi Elle, got turned on to your site by one of your snack food posts, as I tend to follow Korean food blogs. Anyway, just wanted to tell you that my wife’s name is Nara Yoon. I knew your boyfriend’s name was nara, but i didn’t know he was a youn/yoon until i saw the photo credits. peace.

    • Elle:

      Haha yeah his name is a very common girls name here~ he likes it a lot more when we are outside korea lol did your wife tell you its a funny combo too? yoon nara together can mean to sparkle or shine. Extra awesome guys name lol. Anyway thank you for reading! I have a TON of food posts on the way~ went through half my to do list this month ^^ please look forward to it!

      • Custom avatar Gil:

        yeah, my wife thought it was a little odd for a guy’s name. but you’re right, it’s fine if you think of it from an outside-of-korea perspective. i showed my daughters riley (4) and lila (2) a pic of your nara and said he has the same name as mommy. my older one paused and then said, “but that’s a boy, daddy. he has short hair.” lol! looking forward to the food posts. beautiful photos and style, by the way. one day when the kids are a little older we’ll take them from new york to seoul and visit some of these places on your site. Peace.

        • Elle:

          haha yeah, his name was more Hanja based apparently because his grandfather had a dream or something and it kinda ended up that way. Its funny because one of the TV news guys here is also named “nara youn” so he was like “wow…I’m not the only one!?!?!” lmao. Anyway, happy (future) travels!

  • Custom avatar Olivia:

    I really love looking back through this post! I got to celebrate my first Buddha’s Birthday in Korea this year. I didn’t get to see any big lantern parade, but that’s ok cause I ended up being in a smaller one myself! haha I was visiting a friend in Gangwondo and we went to a little temple in her town and they gave us our own lanterns and we all paraded around the park. What an experience! :3
    Also, I love your photos (in this post and in general) and I was wondering if it would be ok if I used some of them in powerpoint presentations that I make for my elementary school lessons? I’d keep your Cute In Korea watermark on them of course!

  • Custom avatar Kim:

    Very interesting! Beautiful pictures!

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