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 “Wisdom and Compassion Make the World Beautiful.” Various programs and events are scheduled, including the popular lantern parade and lantern making as well as traditional experience activities, exciting performances, and a lantern exhibition.
International visitors coming to Korea in May should definitely not miss this wonderful opportunity! The Lotus Lantern Festival is a huge event that only takes place once a year. Read on to find out more about the diverse hands-on activities and things to see at the festival!
The highlight of the lotus lantern festival is the lantern parade! Passing Heunginjimun Gate on its way along Jongno Avenue all the way to Jogyesa Temple, this large-scale parade is a true sight to behold. In accordance to this year’s theme, the festival will feature a special lantern named juakbicheondeung, meaning “the heavenly maidens sing for peace of the Korean peninsula.”
The parade is preceded by a fabulous dance and song performance followed by the bathing Buddha and Dharma rituals. After the rituals, the festival reaches its peak with a flood of ornate lanterns parading the streets of Jongno.
In remembrance of the birth of Buddha, exhibitions of traditional lanterns will be on display for a twelve-day period in various parts of Seoul including Ujeong Park by Jogyesa Temple, Bongeunsa Temple and Cheongyecheon 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 “Eternal Innocence – Seeing the World of Dharma through Lights.”
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 about and better understand Buddhist culture. International visitors in particular will enjoy the chance to try temple foods and traditional activities.
One of the most popular activities is the lotus lantern contest (pre-reservation available) as participants can create their own personal lanterns. There are also many other hands-on activities and things to see in the culture zone. Buddhism-related performances, temple cuisines and experiences are also prepared for both local and international participants to enjoy and learn about this local culture using all five senses.
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 2018, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official website before visiting.