The Lotus Lantern Parade: Moving & Grooving With Lights
One of the most colorful, beautiful and decorated events of the year takes place each May to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and this year was no exception.
While Buddha’s birthday, which is celebrated on May 14th this year, has yet to pass, the celebrations have already commenced and this past weekend the Lotus Lantern Festival with the parade highlight was spectacular as always. It’s an event that I try to see each year and of my ten years in Korea, I think I’ve only missed it three times. This year, I was able to introduce my daughter to the event for the first time and oh did she have fun.
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The parade walkers actually start out at Dongguk University Stadium at a cheer rally to get in the spirits of the day. From there, they make there way to Dongdaemun where the parade actually starts just in front of Dongdaemun Gate. Around 6PM, the main drag along Jongno from Dongdaemun to Jonggak begins to be shut down. Barriers are put up and traffic is slowly re-routed while chairs are put out along the street. For those hoping to sit near the end of the route at Jonggak, you’ve gotta get there the earliest to grab a chair, by 5:30 or 6 at the latest, because those are the most popular seats because at the end of the parade a street party breaks out and concert too and Jonggak is where it is all at.
If you’re like me and carting around a child that decided a nap at 4PM was a good idea, then you’ll likely get a late start and the closer to Dongdaemun that you go, the easier it is to get a front row seat on the street a bit later. We rocked up at 6:30 and had no problem grabbing one of the hundreds of chairs ready and waiting just beyond the gate.
If you’ll be visiting Seoul in time to see the Lotus Lantern Parade, check out Ramada Hotel & Suites, Lotte Hotel or Royal Hotel. All of them are located downtown in the heart of the city and within walking distance of this amazing cultural event!
Koreans in traditional Hanboks and other garb with traditional instruments kick off the parade and then come the groups, groups and more groups of Buddhists in Hanboks or just in some colorful matching shirts with their lanterns raised high above them. 100,000 lanterns light up the night sky as the sun sets and the moon takes over. 300,000 participants walk the path that ends at Jogyesa Temple and the sights are wondrous.
There are few holidays in Korea that are as colorfully decorated or celebrated and probably because of the love and care that this event brings about among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, it’s all the more special and one of my favorite events.
Our little one was just as drawn to the twinkling lights and beautiful Hanboks as I was. While at first she scrambled up to my lap as the loud traditional instruments were banged upon and wasn’t sure what all the noise was about, by the end she had tried to break free and join the parade at least 5 times. She got beyond the barrier and started dancing with her little bouncy up and down moves and all I could do was hold on to that tiny hand while she grooved. She felt the spirit of happiness, gratitude and beauty that this parade encapsulates and I let her jive on.
This festival dates back to the Silla Kingdom in Korea (57BC~935AD), continued through the Goryeo Kingdom and then into the Joseon Dynasty which ended in 1910. To have something with that much history behind it is also amazing when considering the tumultuous history that Korea has had.
If you missed the festival, there are still beautiful lanterns hung up around the city to view as Buddha’s birthday is still to come and many temples around the country will have special events this coming weekend for the birthday. Temples like Bongeunsa on the eastern side of Seoul and Bongwonsa on the western side would be good places to check out. Lanterns are also strung up at Jogyesa Temple and along the Cheonggyecheon Stream downtown. Spring is truly the best time of the year to visit some of these temples that are all the more beautiful when decked out.