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Brilliant birthday for Buddha at Lotus Lantern Fest

Once again, the Seoul night skies will be lit up with colorful orbs celebrating Buddha’s Birthday, as the Lotus Lantern Festival approaches this year on May 15.

Held annually since over 1,300 years ago in honor of the venerated sage, the festival is a deep-seated tradition that has been carried down since the Unified Silla Period. Today, it attracts swarms of crowds to the Jogyesa Temple and Cheonggyecheon Stream areas ― from devout Buddhists to curious tourists and passersby.

The celebration officially began this year with the ceremonial Gwanghwamun lighting on April 29, and will continue through the weekend of May 15-17. Lotus-shaped lanterns have been hung across Seoul for several weeks now in anticipation of the festival. Some of its main attractions include:

Exhibition of traditional lanterns

The exhibition will show lanterns crafted out of hanji, or traditional handmade Korean paper, with each gentle glow telling a story.

The display will take place from May 15-26 at the Woojeong Park next to Jogyesa Temple, Bongeunsa Temple and along the Cheonggyechon stream, where a collection of artist-made lanterns will be exhibited under the theme of “enlightenment.”

An oversized lantern resembling the stone pagoda of Mireuksa Temple is lit in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul.
An oversized lantern resembling the stone pagoda of Mireuksa Temple is lit in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul.

Lantern parade

The highlight of the festival, the parade features a luminous sea of lights as countless people march from Dongdaemun to Gwanghwamun Plaza with handheld lanterns.

This year will see a collection of lanterns dyed with natural pigments such as beet, spinach and gardenia, alongside traditional lanterns and Buddha’s palanquin. Over 300 foreign tourists will parade and participate in a lantern-making contest, hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization. Afterward, a rally to wish for the unification of the two Koreas and world peace will gather at Gwanghwamun Plaza. The parade will take place on May 16 from 6 p.m.

Traditional cultural events

At booths set out on the street in front of Jogyesa Temple, participants will be able to make lotus lanterns of their own, sample temple food, play folk games and create Buddhist artwork.

Visitors will also be able to experience Buddhist counseling and meditation to soothe the mind. The Buddhist cultures of Tibet, Mongolia and Southeast Asia will also be displayed at some booths. The event will be held on May 15 at 7 p.m.

By Rumy Doo (