Previously while blogging about the Buddha’s Birthday in Japan, I stated that the celebration in Korea had already passed. Turns out I was way off (oops). The Buddha’s birthday or seokga tansinil (석가탄신일) is May 28 this year in accordance with the lunar calendar, and has lots of traditions leading up to it.
One famous tradition coming up this Saturday is a tradition called yeondeunghoe (연등회). According to the Yonhap News Agency, this is a festival that always comes before the Buddha’s birthday, and is called the Lotus Lantern Festival because it features a parade of floats that look like lotus-shaped lanterns.
Lotuses are very important symbols in Buddhism. As the Buddha said in the Pali Canon (AN 4.36, the Dona Sutta):
brahman: Then what sort of being are you?
The Buddha: “Just like a red, blue, or white lotus — born in the water, grown in the water, rising up above the water — stands unsmeared by the water, in the same way I — born in the world, grown in the world, having overcome the world — live unsmeared by the world. Remember me, brahman, as ‘awakened.’
–trans. by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Anyhow, I found this really nice site in English about the Lotus Lantern Festival. It explains that in the month leading up to the Buddha’s Birthday there are many family-friendly activities, and in the past, the festivities also served to pray for prosperity for the kingdom and for the well-being of others. There was of course lots of dancing, music and food to celebrate. Temples in Korea often open up and provide free meals and tea on the Buddha’s birthday itself.
I’d love to see it myself in person some day. The website above also has a nice photo gallery, and even a guide for making your own paper lotus. Check it out!