This past weekend was one of Korea’s biggest (and by far the brightest) holidays: Buddha’s Birthday, also known as the Lotus Lantern Festival.
The festivities in Seoul are mainly focused around Jogyesa Temple, which is the founding temple of Zen Buddhism in Korea, and is also centrally located in Insadong. We headed out to Insadong on the weekend preceding Buddha’s Birthday, so we could take a look at the lanterns being set up.
There was a huuuuge street festival happening, with all sorts of interactive Buddhist-themed activities, temple food, and people in costume and hanbok.
Buddhist monks and nuns from all over Asia were in attendance, each with their own tent. It was getting pretty late and rainy, but so many people kept running up to us, asking for us to come and visit their tents; it was super nice!
We took the time to stop and visit a tent where old Korean dudes were writing in traditional hanja script. You could choose a ‘family motto’ and the old guys would write it on a scroll or fan for you, for a small fee that benefited the elderly.
Since I’m such a big fan of old people, especially ones in stylish hats, I paid 5,000 won to have a family motto written on a folding fan.
The motto I chose was ‘happiness is contentment.’ We needed to give the old guy an hour to finish the fan, so we strolled around Jogyesa to see how the festival preparations were going.
We passed these guys on the way to the temple!
There were a few huge floats sitting on the temple grounds; I found out later that we’d actually missed the Lotus Lantern Parade, which had happened the previous evening!
I’m going to remember to do my research properly next year, so I don’t miss the parade again!
The temple grounds were covered in loads of beautiful paper lanterns, mostly traditional-looking ones…
…but of course there were a couple more modern adaptations as well! (This is Brownie, the most famous stuffed toy in Korea.)
This 500 year old locust tree was decorated with beautiful, brightly-colored lanterns; even its tippy top branches above this lantern canopy had been decorated.
I wish Korea was always this bright and colorful! It’s by far my favorite time of year here.
On our way back out to pick up my fan, I stopped and got this cute little handmade lotus lantern hat! There’s actually a tealight inside of it, but I’d probably burn my hair off if I tried to light it. It was getting super rainy and cold by this point, so we had to rush for the subway.