The Lotus Lantern Festival: Cultural Experience Day
If I was forced to choose one day of the Lotus Lantern Festival to go to, it’d be tough. Saturday’s parade is my favorite event to see, but Sunday offers many opportunities to get hands on experience making traditional Korean Buddhist crafts and there is time to talk with monks as well. From noon until 7PM the street in front of Jogyesa Temple is blocked off and 100 booths, a stage and performance areas are set up for people to enjoy.
Some of the crafts are free to experience and some cost a small fee, maximum around W5,000 ($5). One can make a lotus lantern, Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, paint mugs, make clay bowls and plates and a traditional Korean doll among other things. There are Buddhists from Tibet, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and Cambodia with tents to share their ceremonies and have discussions and meditations. There are food tents with bibimbap, rice cake, noodles with black bean sauce and tea. There are performers along the road singing, dancing and performing mock traditional ceremonies. This year, our group of volunteers even had a flash mob! It’s fun for adults, children and families to be sure.
For those that only want to come out for one day, the good thing about Sunday is that there is also a parade, though it is much smaller in comparison to Saturday’s, but that’s could be a key selling point to people that don’t like the crowds. The largest floats aren’t in the line-up and not as many groups attend, but it’s still beautiful.
The mini-parade starts from Jogyesa Temple, goes down the main Insa-dong drag and then goes one block on Jongno Street to circle back to Jogyesa. This year I pushed one of the floats during this parade and it was pretty awesome. Only one lane of traffic is closed off on Jongno Street, which means that cars and buses are still making their way through the area and as the roads aren’t blocked off we had to periodically stop to allow pedestrians to cross at the crosswalks and walk between our floats. It was rather humorous.
All of the bystanders on the main road and in their cars seemed to be unaware any of this was going to happen on Sunday and were hanging out of windows waving to us as they excitedly and suddenly had a front row seat to the action.
The floats aren’t nearly as heavy as I’d expected, but still not easy to maneuver and the street through Insa-dong is really not that wide, so it took a little trial and error, but it was great fun.
The parade culminates at the stage that was set up on the street in front of Jogyesa and all of the participants and viewers partake in the Final Celebration, or Yeondeungnori.
There are dance performances by select groups and it ends as the parade ended on Saturday, with a dance party for all. There aren’t nearly as many people, and there aren’t flower petals falling from the sky, but in it’s more intimate setting, it could be considered even more enjoyable than Saturday’s huge affair.