May 15, 2015: Lotus Lantern Festival
It’s remarkably easy, when traveling, to miss local events. Flyers are no good to you if you don’t know the language. Radio announcements fall on deaf ears, and it’s often after the fact that you discover something was going on. Lucky for us, our Air BnB host in Seoul was kind of enough to let us know about the Lotus Lantern Festival, a Buddist festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha's_Birthday#Korea ] was happening this weekend.
On the opening day of the festival we took the subway to Jogye-sa Temple, where most of the events were being held, and near where the festival parade ended and the afterparty began.
I mused that I wanted to get a lantern of my own, but supposed that, like the festivals in Victoria, that wouldn't be possible. Not an hour before the festival anyway. As soon as we exited the subway, I was delighted to find that I was wrong. Nearly every store on the way there had lanterns out for sale. There were even extra booths set up on the sidewalk selling premade lanterns.
I got a red one.
We had arrived with every intention of going to the parade, but we ended up skipping it in favour of watching parade participants either pre or post performance. We never did find out which they were.
The temple itself was decorated to the nines. Flowers were laid out for the Buddha, and lanterns blanketed the airspace between the ground and sky.
The guy on the hydrolic lift was adding strips of paper with people's family names written on them. You, too, could have your name under dangling under a lantern for luck, for a donation.
Once in the temple, on once side of the main space, people were lined up for something. Turns out they were lined up to wash a small statue of the child Buddha with scented holy water, an act of prayer and an offering of welcome to the Buddha himself.
Inside, another ceremony officially welcoming Buddha. I haven't been able to find an official explanation of what was going on, but it seemed to a royal procession (probably Buddha's parents) welcoming him and celebrating his birth.
All in all, it was a great time. My only regret is that I didn't (and still don't) know the subtler nuances of what was going on.