A Somber Lotus Lantern Parade
Saturday night was the Lotus Lantern Parade that was not only celebrating the birth of Buddha, but this year also became an event to gather people together to pray, chant and contemplate life and the recent tragic loss of so many lives here in Korea. Last week, the Korean Tourism Organization announced that the festival would not take place with the normal festive atmosphere. Like many events around the country, the festival, not cancelled or postponed, would take place but with a more somber mood. The announcement went on to say that there would be no dancing or singing. Though this came as no surprise, I wondered how that would work as so many parts of the festival are centered around singing and dancing as it is a celebration.
As I sat in the front row of seats near Jonggak Station and the parade began, it was clear that there would be no traditional Korean dancers and the music that would normally blast from the large floats would not fill the air. Interestingly, though, it seemed the parade almost became more authentic in a way. Instead of the music, the streets were filled with the knocking sounds of the wooden instruments that are often heard coming from Buddhist temples at prayer time and the monks were chanting, instead of just walking as they normally would. As flags passed us by with prayers written on them and lantern after lantern and Hanbok after Hanbok passed with a small yellow ribbon pinned on it or tied on in remembrance, the mood was somber and contemplative.
Many groups replaced their normally colorful lanterns with white ones and many groups dressed in white Hanboks or white clothing, the traditional color of mourning. Though the colors were muted and the sounds were hushed, there were new floats rolled out this year and the crowds that had come together for the parade had moments of excitement when these new additions passed by.
It felt as though people welcomed the chance to be outside together celebrating something. Crowds hushed in respect as the written prayers for those lost went by, but applauded when those pushing a float that was too tall to go beneath a wire that crossed the street managed to maneuver it in such a way as to finally pass. Koreans and foreigners sat together sharing drinks, sharing stories and sharing the experience. Lanterns were passed around and pictures were were snapped from all angles.
At times of loss, everyone must grieve and we all grieve in our own ways and show respect in our own ways as well. It was lovely to see so many people come together and take the opportunity that the Lotus Lantern Festival provides to find some peace.