Ever since arriving in South Korea I always wanted to participate in traditional festivals and celebrations. This year I found out about the Lotus Lantern Festival and was able to attend a parade celebrating the start of Buddha’s Birthday festivities in South Korea. It was one of the best experiences I have had since arriving in Korea. I can’t wait to share this awesome experience with you!
The Story behind this festival:
The YeonDeungHoe (연등회) is a festival listed as one of Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is a festival that celebrates Buddha’s Birthday. Each year it lands on a different day because the holiday is scheduled according to the lunar calendar.
However, each year the parade is held the weekend before Buddha’s Birthday. This year, in 2022, the parade was held on April 30th. The parade marks the start of an entire week of celebrations at Buddhist temples all over the world.
Lotus Lantern Festival Activities
About one month before Buddha’s Birthday all of the streets in South Korea get decorated with traditional lanterns. At night, rainbow-colored lanterns line the streets in every city, big and small. So, if you’re worried about missing the parade next year, just remember to look up the date once you start seeing lanterns.
River Lantern Exhibitions
During the week-long Lotus Lantern Festival, lantern exhibitions can be seen on display all over the country. Lanterns are normally made of traditional paper and wood sculptures. These sculptures depict Buddhist teachings and traditional Korean folktales.
You can find lantern exhibitions in bodies of water. Normally, they will be along controlled streams or lakes. The most famous lotus lantern display is located in downtown Seoul along the Cheongyecheon (천계천).
Lotus Lantern Festival Parade
The weekend before Buddha’s Birthday a lantern parade is held in the center of Seoul. The parade is held in the Jongno district of Seoul, near Jogyesa temple. Festivities begin at 7 PM and end at 9 PM.
Large lantern parade floats are driven down streets. Meanwhile, people of all ages carry smaller lanterns through the streets. Monks and craftsmen from all over the country prepare these spectacular lanterns to show the public for a single night.
The atmosphere is joyous. There are lots of people dancing and singing together. Some people wear traditional costumes, others come equipt with instruments.
South Korea recently lifted travel restrictions. As a result, not only Korean temples participated, but also temples from all over the world. Each group proudly displayed its own version of Buddhism. There were unique costumes, music, and lantern crafts from each represented country.
One thing that I was definitely not expecting was the number of foreigners at the event. There were some foreigners who were parading and others who were carrying beautiful lanterns in the crowd. I found out that it is possible to apply ahead of time and be part of the parade yourself. It is something I am looking forward to for next year!
Those participating in the parade frequently interacted with onlookers, which made the experience even better! Not only did we have the opportunity to learn about Buddhist history and traditions from all over the world, but we were also able to be part of the celebration. I received a lantern at the end of the parade and it will without a doubt be one of my most treasured mementos.
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