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!
♥ ♥ ♥
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!
♥ ♥ ♥
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
♥ ♥ ♥
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!