The Lotus Lantern Parade: From Beginning to End
The parade is by far the highlight of the Lotus Lantern Festival.
It starts at 7PM from Dongguk University Stadium with all of the attendees of the Buddhist Cheer Rally lining up group by group to make their way waving and smiling to Jogyesa Temple. I wouldn’t recommend watching the parade until the procession leads past Dongdaemun History and Culture Park however though, because the grand lanterns are parked there and added into the line up from that point on.
The best places to get great views of the parade are anywhere on Jongno Street from Heunginjimun Gate down to Jonggak Intersection. There are also free seats set up along this street for spectators to rest and enjoy the show from and if you’re seated near the end you may get a free lantern handed to you.
This was my first year to walk in the parade and it definitely left a smile on my face. I have to admit that I was a little sad that I couldn’t just sit and watch with everyone else as the lanterns are just so beautiful, but I took my position with the other foreign volunteers proudly and waved my way on down the street. It was certainly different being on the other side of the blockades and the Korean viewers seemed especially surprised, but also happy to see us.
There are six groups of lantern carriers and floats with everything from traditional lotus flower lanterns and paper lanterns to lanterns in the shape of Hangul, the Korean alphabet, spelling out words. There are huge floats in the shapes of dragons, elephants and birds as well as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. There are groups from temples, groups from schools and of course the most popular groups are the monks themselves.
The parade finally ends at Jonggak intersection. The smaller floats are turned right and parked on the street in front of Jogyesa temple, and stay there lit up so that people can get photos with them while the larger floats continue straight on Jongno Street to be parked and dismantled by the end of the night. The musicians that have just finished walking the two hour parade trail aren’t finished yet and often continue to play in small circles near Jogyesa Temple for those gathered nearby.
By 9 the parade has ended, but the night is still quite young. At Jonggak intersection there is a stage and a large square sectioned off. Here is where Hoehyang Hanmadang, the Post-Parade Celebration, takes place. The participants in the parade have all learned dances and now it is time to show them off. The blockades are taken down and the spectators are now allowed onto the street. It becomes a block party of sorts with participants who know the dances and spectators who don’t, but will learn quickly. People are pulled into circles to swing around and around and link up arms to shoulders to form long trains that zig zag through the crowds pulling in those nearby. For two hours music is playing and people are dancing together in a huge crowd until finally it begins to rain flowers, or pink confetti paper, on to the people. It was my first time to make it until the very end and it was glorious. So many happy and smiling people together, Buddhist and non-Buddhists, Koreans and foreigners and everyone seemed to be having fun.