Festive Birthday of Buddha
Celebration in Korea

jogyesa lanterns lotusLanterns at Jogyesa Temple during the birthday of Buddha celebration in Seoul.

Birthday of Buddha Celebration

Buddha's birthday, also known as Seokgatansinil (석가탄신일) in Korean, is a public holiday that holds immense religious and cultural significance.

Since I first set foot in Korea, I have been amazed by the colorful lanterns hanging everywhere. Not having enough information about Buddha's birthday celebrations, I wondered what was happening then. All I can remember is the feeling of total wonder. Then, I started exploring the temples and learned more about their celebrations.

This day is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Lunar calendar, which usually falls in late April or early May. It marks the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who later became known as Buddha, the enlightened one.

cheonggyecheong stream heart lights Cheonggyecheon Lights

The birthday of Buddha celebration is when devotees come together to honor his teachings and seek enlightenment.

It is a day of joy, peace, and gratitude, where people engage in various religious activities, such as visiting temples, offering prayers, lighting candles, and meditating.

The celebration of Buddha's birthday is not limited to Buddhist communities only, as it has become a part of the cultural heritage of many countries. In Korea, for instance, the celebration includes various cultural events, such as parades, lantern festivals, and traditional performances.

Buddha's birthday is a day of great significance for millions of people worldwide, as it reminds us of the importance of compassion, wisdom, and inner peace.

cheonggyecheon stream horse carriage lights

2024 Yeon Deong Hoe - Lotus Lantern Festival

The 24th YeonDeungHoe, also known as the Lotus Lantern Festival, is scheduled to take place from May 10th (Friday) to 12th (Sunday) in 2024.

On May 11th (Saturday), there will be a lantern parade and Daedonghanmadang, while on May 12th (Sunday), there will be traditional cultural events and Yeondeungnori.

During the festival, the streets will be illuminated with a variety of colorful lanterns, and the parade participants will greet the audience with bright smiles, creating a joyous atmosphere. See more here

cheonggyecheon heart shaped lightsHeart light in Cheonggyecheon Stream Plaza

The Ever-Changing Date

The celebration of Buddha's birthday, also known as Vesak Day, is observed according to the lunar calendar, which causes its date to vary yearly. For instance, in 2024, Buddha's birthday will be celebrated on May 15, the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. 

To give you an idea of past and upcoming dates, the following are some dates for Buddha's birthday...

  • 2025: May 8 (Thursday)
  • 2024: May 15 (Wednesday)
  • 2023: May 27 (Saturday)
  • 2022: May 8 (Sunday)
  • 2021: May 19 (Wednesday)

Festivities Leading Up to the Day

The excitement builds in the weeks preceding birthday of Buddha celebration. Streets and temples come alive with colorful lanterns, creating a vibrant and festive atmosphere. Here's what you can expect...

The Yeon Deung Hoe, also known as the Lantern Parade, is one of the most spectacular events in Seoul.

This event features a mesmerizing lotus lantern festival in various parts of the city, including the Cheongyecheon stream, Insadong Street, and Jogyesa Temple in central Seoul. The festival showcases thousands of delicate paper lotus lanterns decorated with intricate designs and patterns that are a true visual delight.

The lantern parade begins as night falls, illuminating the city streets with a warm and vibrant glow.

The parade features a variety of floats, performers, and participants, all carrying beautiful lanterns that symbolize wisdom and compassion. It's a truly magical experience that celebrates the spirit of Seoul and its people.

The Yeon Deung Hoe is an event that brings people from all walks of life together to celebrate light's beauty and community's power. It's a perfect way to experience the rich culture and heritage of South Korea and create lasting memories.

Korean Words & expressions

Korean words you might wish to learn to enjoy the birthday of Buddha celebration. Let me know if you want to learn more. Here they are...

Buddha’s Birthday: 석가탄신일 (seokgatansinil)

The day when Buddha came: 부처님 오신 날 (bucheonim osin nal)

안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo) - Hello

감사합니다 (gamsahamnida) - Thank you

무엇을 도와드릴까요? (mueoseul dowadrikkayo?) - How may I assist you?

예, 좋아요 (ye, joh-ayo) - Yes, that's good.

Cultural Performances and Parades

Cultural performances during this festival in South Korea can include a variety of traditional music, dance, and theatrical performances.

For example, there may be performances of traditional Korean drumming, called "samulnori," or the elegant and graceful movements of "hanbok," a traditional Korean dance.

These performances can be both entertaining and educational, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich and diverse cultural heritage of South Korea.

The parades during the festival can be pretty spectacular, with participants dressed in colorful costumes and vibrant floats decorated with intricate designs.

These parades often feature traditional Korean music, dance, and other performances and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

One of the most famous parades during this festival is the lantern parade, where thousands of colorful lanterns are carried through the streets, creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable sight.

In addition to the cultural performances and parades, there are also various temple activities that visitors can participate in.

For example, there may be meditation sessions where visitors can learn about and practice this ancient art of mindfulness. Visitors can also sample traditional Korean food and drink, such as kimchi and soju, often served during the festival.

Additionally, there may be opportunities to learn about the history and significance of the temples, which are usually centuries-old cultural treasures.

Free Foodies

korean-cuisine-bibimbapBibimbap and Jjiggae (soup)

Free Tea and Bibimbab

The temples prepare the free food and teas with great care and attention to detail. The ingredients used in the preparation are often locally sourced and organic.

The Bibimbab, for instance, is made with fresh, crisp vegetables that are in season, along with healthy portions of rice, and it is served with a side of spicy gochujang sauce. 

In addition to bibimbab, temples offer other traditional Korean dishes such as japchae, a dish made with sweet potato noodles, and tteokbokki, a spicy rice cake dish. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of teas made from ingredients such as ginseng, ginger, and jujube.

The temple food is not only delicious but also nutritious and often vegetarian or vegan. The free meals and teas allow the temples to share their culture and hospitality with visitors and create a sense of community and togetherness during the festivities.

The longer I stay in Korea, the more I enjoy and wonder about the celebrations for Buddha's birthday. I don't want to compare, but it is as impressive as celebrating Christmas among Christian believers.

So, there you go. If you have not explored or joined any celebrations for Buddha's birthday, try once, and I assure you, you will enjoy it.

Temples In Seoul Area

jogyesa temple outside view of hallJogyesa Temple in Seoul

Here are five famous Buddhist temples in Seoul, each with its unique charm and significance that you can easily explore during Buddha's birthday...

Jogyesa Temple

  • Constructed in 1395, Jogyesa is South Korea's most important temple. It represents the largest segment of the country's Buddhist population and is surrounded by high-rise buildings in downtown Seoul. Visitors can witness genuine displays of religious devotion and circumambulate the lofty, 500-year-old Scholar tree.

Bongeunsa Temple

  • Located in Gangnam-gu, Bongeunsa is known for its impressive Seonbul (meditation) painting and the 500-year-old ginkgo tree. Despite being surrounded by corporate buildings, it remains popular with travelers and locals.

Jingwansa Temple

  • In Bukhansan National Park, Jingwansa offers a serene escape from the city. The temple is known for its beautiful scenery and peaceful atmosphere.

Suguksa Temple

  • Nestled in the mountains, Suguksa Temple provides a tranquil retreat. Visitors can explore its ancient architecture and enjoy the natural surroundings.

Gilsangsa Temple

  • Located in Seongbuk-gu, Gilsangsa is a peaceful hermitage with a grotto. It's a place for meditation and reflection, away from the bustling city life.

These temples offer a glimpse into Korean Buddhism and provide moments of serenity amidst the urban hustle and bustle. 🙏✨

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