Every year in May, Buddha turns one year older. During this time, Koreans throw the biggest birthday party by lighting thousands of paper lanterns. Korean Buddhists believe that the lanterns symbolize wisdom as they bring light to the world. Just imagine over 100,000 Lotus Lanterns brightening the heart of Seoul.
Let’s skip the historical element and get straight to the party itself. The celebration begins when thousands of locals get together dressed in traditional costumes (hanbok) carrying illuminated lanterns in the shape of dragons, pagodas, white elephants, and lotus flowers down one of Seoul’s busiest streets.
The two and a half hour parade, which runs from the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park down Jongno Street to Jogyesa Temple, is a truly magical sight. Make sure you get yourself a paper lantern because you’re going to need it later.
When the parade is over, along comes a post-parade ceremony called the Hoehyang Hanmadang. The Hoehyang Hanmadang is a flurry of events and performances culminating with the traditional circle dance that anyone can join in.
Don’t be shy; take the opportunity to grab a stranger’s hand while you dance and sing amidst scattered flower petals. End the night by partaking in the great lantern release. Legend has it that if you write down your wishes or resolutions on small scraps of paper, they will come true as they burn when thousands of wish lanterns float up into the night sky.
During the two weeks of the Lotus Lantern Festival, there will also be the biggest Buddhist Street Festival near Jogyesa Temple that is worth checking out. Visitors can stroll through more than 100 booths highlighting various aspects of Buddhist culture. This is the place to perfect your Buddhist bow, take part in tea ceremony demonstrations, practice Zen
meditation or paint your very own Buddha portrait. If this doesn’t satisfy your Zen lust, you can make a lantern or taste some delicious temple dishes.