Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world, tracing its history back to the birth of the Buddha, which means “the enlightened one,” 2556 years ago. In Korea, it is a national holiday, which thankfully landed on a Friday this year. It was pretty cool to have a three day weekend, but the festivities aren’t just about having a day off (even if it is a nice perk).
The Lotus Lantern Festival is one of my favorites in Korea, highlighted by its fantastic parade across the heart of Seoul in Jong-no county. Performers doing traditional dances, and people marching for a cause join monks from all over the world to celebrate the birth of one of the most influential thinkers in human history. Although it is to celebrate the Buddha, the festival actually takes place a week before his birthday, on Saturday, May 11th, 2013.
Another cool area during the Lotus Lantern Festival is the Cheonggye Stream (cheon). While I don’t really see the allure of this stream on a normal day, during this festival, beautiful lanterns are put on display in the water. There is a walkway, which is a bit submerged from the main street, blocking out all of the noise from downtown Seoul, giving you a little peace and quiet in such a busy city. This isn’t really an issue during this festival though as the main street (Jongno Street) is closed down to make way for the parade.
The time leading, and up to the weekend of Buddha’s birthday, is an excellent time to view Buddhist temples in Korea. There is no greater holiday in Buddhism, so during this time, every temple is adorned with hand made lanterns. Some temples even have lantern making events where they allow you to make your own lantern and display it in the temple (or take it home).
I guess the best comparison I can draw to this special time in Korea is the Christmas season in a christian country, where the entire month of December leading up to Christmas is cause for celebration. If Buddhism, enlightenment, temples, and parades aren’t your thing, maybe at least you can enjoy these cool fire-breathing DRAGONS!