Buddha’s Birthday is a widely celebrated holiday in South Korea.
|2019||12 May||Sun||Buddha's Birthday|
|2020||30 Apr||Thu||Buddha's Birthday|
The holiday is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month according the Chinese lunar calendar. The holiday is celebrated during late April to early May.
The celebration of Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea is a strong representation of the Buddhist influence on South Korean culture. About 20% of the South Korean population are Buddhists, but Buddhist’s Birthday is recognized as a public holiday. Buddha’s Birthday is a celebration of the life and enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Along with South Korea, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated in various nations in East and Southeast Asia.
Buddha was born and given the name Siddhartha Gautama in 1029 BCE to a noble father. After leaving home he witnessed the world’s impoverished people and various crimes. Soon after, Siddhartha Gautama meditated under a tree for a long period of time until he found enlightenment. He set an example for others by helping the needy and giving up all material possessions. Upon his death, Siddhartha Gautama was given the name Buddha for finding enlightenment. To celebrate his accomplishment and the example that he set for others, Buddhists began to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
During Buddha’s Birthday, many South Koreans participate in various activities and traditions to celebrate the holiday.
Temples host various events to honor the memory of Buddha. By visiting temples, people can enjoy free food and tea that is offered to monks. It is a good practice to provide an offering of rice or other gift to the monks during visits. Monks will donate the items that they cannot use to the poor or other needy people.
On Buddha’s Birthday, many Buddhists and other South Koreans create lotus lanterns to hang outside of homes. A typical lotus lantern is made of hanji and can be simple or elaborate depending on the skill and effort of the creator. Each lantern usually has a small tea light inside of it to make it glow on the evening of Buddha’s Birthday. No two lotus lanterns are exactly alike, so people often take great joy in going on a stroll to check out all of the lanterns. Because of the large presence of lanterns in South Korea on Buddha’s Birthday, the holiday has become known as the Festival of Lanterns by foreigners.
Folk performances are commonly held in the streets of South Korea’s major cities during Buddha’s Birthday. These performances range from short plays to Korean folk music. Themes in these performances are usually centered around Buddhist ideas and Korean history. These folk performances are suitable for the entire family.
During the celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, many parades are held in Seoul and other cities. While some of these parades only stretch across a couple city blocks, they are a good way to get into the spirit of the holiday. The largest parades for Buddha’s Birthday are quite elaborate. These parades often have dancers, music, floats, and dragons. This is a time of happiness and excitement to be experienced with friends and family.
To pay respect to Buddha’s birth, many families take part in a practice known as baby washing. In temples and some homes, there is a stone or metal figure of Buddha as a baby. People pay respects by ‘washing the baby’, or taking a ladle full of tea or water and pouring it over the Buddha figure’s head. This ritual signifies the importance of Buddha’s Birthday to Buddhists in South Korea.
To honor the life and actions of Buddha, it is a common practice of Buddhists and other South Koreans to engage in community service projects for a couple hours on Buddha’s Birthday. These community service can range quite a bit depending on a person’s skill sets and motivations, but people often make an effort to help the poor or other needy people. People may help others on this holiday by offering assistance in the form of clothing or food.
Buddha’s Birthday is not known for its large feasts. This is a result of the Buddhist belief that people should let go of material possessions. This modest approach is also practiced to honor the minimalist lifestyle of Siddhartha Gautama himself. One of the most common dishes eaten on Buddha’s Birthday is bibimbap. Bibimbap is a plain dish of rice and vegetables. The vegetables in bibimbap vary depending on availability, but they are often some variety of namul. This may be spinach, fern shoots, or cabbage. It is often flavored with soy sauce or red pepper sauce. Other variations of bibimpap include salted soybean paste or doenjang. Since Buddhists typically practice a vegetarian diet due to their beliefs, the bibimpap served at temples in vegetarians. Despite this, it is a common practice of many South Koreans to add a fried egg or some kind of ground meat to their bibimpap.
Places to Celebrate
Seoul is the heart of celebrations for Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea. Between Tapgol Park and Jogyesa, people can enjoy a large parade. At Joggak Station, there is a large celebration known as Hochyang Hanmandang. This is essentially a large post-festival party for all to enjoy. During the day of Buddha’s Birthday, people can go to Jogyesa Temple to enjoy various activities. Children and adults may tour the temple, participate in baby washing, make lotus lanterns, eat temple food, and create Buddhist art.
Buddha’s Birthday is a rich cultural event that is enjoyed by Buddhists and other South Korean people.