100,000 Lotus Lanterns
Arriving early to find stacks of chairs ready to be taken lining the street, barriers already set up one lane into the road and staff awaiting the cops to block traffic at the end of the road to start setting up just built the anticipation. My friend and I grabbed some chairs forty-five minutes prior to the set start time and placed ourselves just behind the ropes to get the best seats in the house. We were down near the end of the show near Insa-dong and Jogyesa Temple. Watching as the cops slowly blocked off traffic on this busy thoroughfare in the center of Seoul and more people started filing in and grabbing seats made my knees start knocking together. It was the same feeling every year when I was younger back home living in the suburbs of Dayton. The parade may have been a bit smaller with mostly local highschool bands, color guards and cheerleaders but the excitement as we walked up to the main strip, or Stroop as is its name, getting out our blankets to sit on to watch was the same.
From Dongdaemun to Jogyesa Temple, along Jongno Street a parade of lanterns in the shape of the lotus flower or other significant Buddhist symbols flowed. As in years past it was nothing short of spectacular. The lights were brilliant and the people in the parade and watching were all in good spirits. The weather forecasted rain over the weekend, but Saturday and Sunday ended up being bright and sunny with a slight breeze to remind us all of what a friendly spring can look like.
According to Buddhist beliefs, the act of lighting a lotus-shaped lantern “will light up the dark parts of one’s soul. By doing this, the evil and flawed parts of one’s soul are stripped away leaving only a clean slate to start anew. Lanterns are also lit to dispel the darkness that is in the world, symbolizing one’s hope for a wiser and more compassionate society.”
This festival began in the Goryeo Period between 918 and 1392 and continued in the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910 and Koreans are still celebrating with this beautiful tradition today. It’s always a wonder to behold and I’m glad I had the chance to once again this year.