Sunday was the third day of the Lotus Lantern Festival, and that day is all about cultural experiences. The street in front of Jogyesa Temple is turned into a street fair dedicated to all things Buddhism. Over 100 different booths are set up enabling participants to learn many different things.
Examples: different forms of Buddhism in different countries.
Try different tasty Buddhist foods, like Mongolian cookies and rice dishes:
There are also many opportunities to try a wide variety of crafts. There are more crafts than one can do in one day. Participants can make paper lotus flowers. They can craft a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads. You can make Korean paper or lotus shaped candles. You can decorate masks or make clay objects.
But my absolutely favorite activity at this festival was making a full size paper lotus lantern. The festival as an area marked off for foreigners to make lotus lanterns.
The activity is completely free and you are given all the materials you need to make a lotus lantern in a variety of colors. Some people made unicolor lanterns that resembled a real life lotus flower. And other lanterns were a rainbow of bright colors. Making a lantern is rather time consuming, but pleasantly contemplative.
It’s actually a bit more involved than you might think having to twist and glue every sheet of paper onto the lantern.
But it’s all worth it at the end when you have your very own colorful lotus lantern to take home with you.
Overall the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival is one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. The setting in Jogyesa Temple, decked out with thousands of colorful lotus lanterns is beautiful. The parade is quite a sight to behold. And the cultural experiences day is an enjoyable learning experience.
My favorite part of the Lotus Lantern Festival was the abundance of lantern floats that look absolutely amazing at night. These floats ranged from traditional images like dragons and tigers to more contemporary images of children’s cartoons. These floats are just a select few that I particularly loved.
What was interesting about so many of these floats is that they were pushed by hand for the entire parade route. There were some outsize floats that were driven by a vehicle, but more often than not, you would see a group of individuals pushing the float.
My favorite floats were the abundance of dragons. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for dragons. Partly because they are just so exotic and beautiful looking (especially Asian dragons), but also because I am a Dragon in Chinese astrology
Capturing these floats at night was an interesting challenge. I have a pretty good camera with an excellent night landscape setting. What it doesn’t do as well (or should I say I haven’t found the right settings) is capturing images at night in motion. More than once, my camera would take too long to focus and either the float passed me by, or the image was blurry. The amount of ambient light from surrounding businesses didn’t help either.
I would highly recommend the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival Parade (well, the entire festival, but more on that in a follow on post). As I mentioned before, this is probably the longest parade I have witnessed, and there are so many beautiful floats to marvel and enjoy.
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.