Buddha’s 2553rd Birthday

Today, May 2, is Buddha’s Birthday in Korea. Celebration of Buddha’s birthday changes every year, depending on the lunar calendar. It’s an official non-working holiday here, unfortunately it landed on a Saturday this year!

It’s called 석가탄신일 (seok-ka-tan-shin-il) for “the day of Buddha’s birthday” or 부처님 오신 날 (bu-cheo-nim o-shin-nal) for “the day Buddha arrived” in Korea. Days before his birthday, one would find colorful lanterns lined up along the street leading to a temple.

Every year too, a festive lantern parade is held in Seoul along Jong-ro from Dongdaemun to Jogye Temple. This year, it was held on April 26. This is a must see parade as representatives from almost every temple in Korea join the festivities. Even temples from as far as Sri Lanka and Mongolia joined the parade this year.

We went to Kyobo Bookstore early Sunday evening. My son likes the children’s books section of the store. I’d be lucky if I could even read to him since he doesn’t like being taught! Anyway, we were able to see part of the parade and boy there were lots of spectators – Koreans and foreigners alike. In fact, I’d never seen so many foreigners in Korea until that time.

Lanterns of every shape and color were held and paraded by the participants. Men, women and children wore hanboks while the monks were in their traditional brown or gray clothes. Traditional Korean music preceded every temple’s presentation.

One woman, seeing that I wasn’t holding a lantern, gave me one. Every one was just in a festive mood… except for one group outside the building of Samsung Financial Center.

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