Saturday, May 11th 2013 was the annual Lotus Lantern Festival Parade held in conjunction with the Lotus Lantern Festival. The festival is to honor Buddha’s Birthday and this year the main festival was held May 10-12. The weekend is packed with a variety of religious and cultural experiences that are a lot of fun and informative. The highlight of the festival is the parade held on Saturday night. This parade is one of the best and the longest I have seen. The parade starts at Dongdaemun, the old east gate of Seoul and current home to a large market. It continues west down Jongno Street to the final destination of Jogyesa Temple, the center of the Lotus Lantern Festival. The parade lasts about two hours and consists of a wide variety of lighted lantern floats and marching groups carrying many different types of lanterns.
I decided to view the parade closer to the ending point about a 10 minute walk from Jogyesa Temple. When you’re short like I am, it is highly critical to get a good vantage spot to view a parade. The city actually sets up a couple rows of seats for people to sit in and watch the parade along parts of the parade route. I initially assumed that they were reserved for tour groups who paid for them, only to discover (a bit too late) that anyone can sit in them. Even when I get higher up, it seems to happen that someone much taller than me stands right in front of me, so I spend the entire parade jockeying my camera for a good position.
It was interesting to contrast the traditional beauty, meaning and celebration of the parade with the neon signs for modern businesses like Starbucks Coffee and Dunkin Donuts right in the background. Seoul is a very modern city with pockets of traditionalism tucked within it.
Tourists even have the opportunity to participate in the Lotus Lantern Parade through a special program that consists of lantern making, dinner, walking the actual parade, and the after parade festivities. The catch is that you have to register for it in advance. I didn’t do it this time, but next year I want to experience the Lotus Lantern Parade as fully as I can.