In general traditional Korean gratuity, we’ve observed four holidays in the past 2.5 weeks. The festivities started with the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. The birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama is noted as the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, which falls this year on May 2.
Buddhism comprises a large portion of the Korean religious population (although the majority of the country is secular), so this is a very important holiday to the country. In Seoul, lotus lanterns hang across the city for weeks leading up to the actual holiday. The celebrations culminate at the Lotus Lantern Festival, held in downtown Seoul. The festival stretched from the metropolitan center, Jongno-gu, to the traditional — and usually tourist-infested — district, Insadong. Events included lantern-making, traditional performance and a lantern parade.
The parade featured brightly-lit floats and throngs of citizens carrying lanterns shaped like, well, lotus flowers. The parade led into Jogyesa temple, home to the largest Buddha shrine in Seoul. Countless strings of lanterns created a multicolored ceiling outside the temple — a nice alternative to the starless skies of Seoul. This entire evening reeked of photo-ops, and it was fantastic:
Three days after Buddha’s birthday (and the continuation of a five-day weekend, which is another post in itself) on May 5 was Children’s Day. The premise for this holiday still seems vague to me, but the origins of Korean Children’s Day trace back to a children’s writer in the early 20th century, BangJeong-hwan (방정환). He created the Korean word for child — 어린 — and promoted the idea of respecting children as individuals rather than treating them as property belonging to the parents. To celebrate this holiday, parents often take their kids to zoos, museums or outdoor festivals strewn about the city in various parks.
These kids, who to this point, I’m sure, have contributed little to society, seem to have a more important holiday than the two that came in the next week and a half: Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day. Without parents these kids wouldn’t be here. (Don’t give me that “They are the future” spiel. What have they done for me lately?) Without dedicated educators like myself (lolz), these kids are going nowhere.
On a more serious note, Children’s Day seems much more fun, while Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day seemed much more subtle. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the day off during the latter two days. I didn’t come out empty-handed, though. I got two half days, and on Teachers’ Day, I got a couple bookmarks and some vitamins. It wasn’t exactly the most prolific haul, but I’m not a big gift person anyway.
It’s been rather uneventful (or too eventful depending on how you define “event”) couple of weeks, but a trip to Busan is on this weekend’s docket as is another annual celebration of me, er, my birthday. It should be nothing short of a mess.