Happy Birthday Buddha (and thanks for the day off school)

Tomorrow marks Buddha’s Birthday here in Korea. Following last weekend’s Lotus Lantern festival and a 10-day exhibit of the lanterns, Buddha’s birthday really only means one thing to me: no school for a day and I get to go see pretty lights. Ok, that’s two things.

As a non-Korean and a non-Buddist, I never have any indication Buddha’s birthday celebrations are afoot until countless colourful lanterns start appearing along every street. Although, my calendar at school is marked ‘red’ meaning ‘public holiday’, I quite often have no idea what the day actually holiday is.

The Lotus Lantern Festival’s existence, however, I’m well aware of. A weekend of celebration involving the chance to try out a whole host of traditional events as over 100 booths line the streets outside Jogyesa Temple. It culminates in the Lotus Lantern Parade on the Saturday night. Vistors can try their hand at ceremonial bowing, ceremonial tea-making, Zen meditation, taste some traditional temple food and make a lotus flower lantern.

Now, I’ve been to the festival before, so I didn’t attend this year. I’ve also made a lotus flower before and let me tell you I found it neither a ‘relaxing‘ nor a ‘joyful‘ experience. As someone who has all the patience and attention span of a young kitten, the idea of twisting colorful tissue paper into leaves and then glueing them together in a very specific way was never going to mesh well with me. It was never going to be an enchanting relationship between me and my lotus flower. By the time I had finished I wanted to hit the Buddhist over the head with my stupid flower, and although I protected my flower from the elements and guarded it against being squashed on the ride home, it eventually succumbed to a house move and was discarded. It’s worth mentioning I was also hungover while making the lotus flower…that may also have been a factor in my lack of enthusiasm.

Instead, opting once again to avoid the crowds, The Canadian One and I took a hop, skip and a jump down the road to COEX on Tuesday night where, at the Bongeunsa Temple, the lantern display was in full force.

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