The Yeon Deung Hoe (Lotus Lantern Festival) is an annual event that colors Korea with bright lanterns in celebration of the birth of Buddha. Started as a religious festival during the Silla Dynasty (57 BC – AD 935), this traditional festival has come to be enjoyed by thousands of people every year, regardless of background, nationality, or religion.
In hopes of making the world a better place, this year’s slogan and theme is “A Merciful Spirit, Peace in the World.” Various programs and events are scheduled, including the popular lantern parade and lantern making as well as traditional activities, exciting performances, and a lantern exhibition.
International visitors coming to Korea in May should definitely include this wonderful celebration in their itinerary! The Lotus Lantern Festival is a huge event that takes place once a year. Read on to find out more about the diverse hands-on activities and things to see at the festival!
Eoulim Madang, also called Buddhist Cheer Rally, is an energy-filled event taking place before the lantern parade begins. The various groups that will walk in the parade gather here to sing songs and dance. Their moods bounce off each other until the stadium overflows with happiness. The rally is open to everyone, so visitors can take a seat and clap along, or jump to their feet and join in the dancing! The cheer rally culminates in the ritual of bathing Buddha and Dharma readings.
The highlight of the lotus lantern festival is the lantern parade! Passing Heunginjimun Gate on its way along Jongno Avenue to Jogyesa Temple, this large-scale parade is a true sight to behold. The participating groups have each planned unique lanterns specifically for this year’s parade.
The end of the parade signals the start of the post-parade celebration, Hoehyang Hanmadang. The stage is set up at Jonggak Intersection and will feature traditional music performances as well as modern musical performances. All visitors will feel connected as they join hands and participate in the Ganggangsullae dance, a UNESCO-inscribed Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In remembrance of the birth of Buddha, exhibitions of traditional lanterns will be on display for a ten-day period in various parts of Seoul including Ujeong Park by Jogyesa Temple, Bongeunsa Temple and Cheonggyecheon Stream. These exhibitions provide a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the unassuming charm of Korea’s traditional paper, hanji. In particular, Cheonggyecheon Stream’s exhibition will display quality lanterns with a theme of “Flowers of Peace Bloom on the Korean Peninsula,” promoting peace and reunification.
The Traditional Culture Zone will be prepared in front of Jogyesa Temple, featuring approximately 130 booths run by Buddhist organizations and temples from across the nation. These booths provide a chance for visitors to learn and better understand Buddhist culture. Traditional performances, temple cuisine and experiences are prepared for both local and international participants to enjoy and learn about this local culture using all five senses.
International visitors in particular will enjoy the chance to try temple foods and making paper flowers. One of the most popular activities is the lotus lantern contest (pre-reservation available) as participants can create their own personal lanterns.
From the streets of Insa-dong to the road before Jogyesa Temple and all around the area of Jongno, the Lotus Lantern Festival will end in a final parade with grand lanterns and the music of a street performing troupe. The performers, visitors, and lanterns will come together for a fun and exciting time full of dancing and laughter in the streets.
* This column was last updated in April 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official website before visiting.