Buddha’s Birthday – Seokgatansinil (석가탄신일)

Happy Friday everyone! For the people of South Korea it’s the start of an extra special and long weekend as today is one of the biggest events and major public holidays of the year: ‘Buddha’s Birthday’ or Seokgatansinil. Buddhism is one of the major religions in South Korea and today celebrates the birth of Buddha Gautama. This is considered to be a very important day in South Korea and East Asia, so there’s a lot of celebrating and fun to be had! The precise birth date of Buddha is unknown, in most areas of East Asia Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Lunisolar calendar which means today, the 17th May 2013. Today is classed as a public holiday so many business and schools close up and get to start their weekend early!

Seoul Parade - Image from Daily Mail

Seoul Parade – Image from Daily Mail

This holiday is considered to be one of the biggest Buddhist holidays in South Korea and festivities normally last a whole week. The 17th is the official day but many people often start preparations early. For the past seven days, many temples and streets have been decorated with lanterns, creating a sea of colour and illumination throughout the country; South Korea must be absolutely breathtaking at the moment. Temples are often decorated in lotus shaped lanterns for the whole month before Buddha’s birthday, adding to the splendour. On the day of Buddha’s birth each year, many temples give out free food and tea for visitors, so if you’re in South Korea today, score! One very beautiful temple, the Bongmamsa Temple, opens its doors to visitors on this day each year alone, a very rare treat. Our fellow WKB blogger Johanne Miller took a trip there and called it the most beautiful and peaceful temple she’s ever visited in South Korea, make sure you check out her blog post here!

Seoul Parade - Image from Daily Mail

Seoul Parade – Image from Daily Mail

In Seoul on May 11th, there was a huge gala lantern parade which stretched for miles to get the celebrations started. Seoul’s annual celebrations are one of the biggest Buddha’s birthday celebrations throughout Asia, and judging from the photos alone, it looks epic and spectacular. British Newspaper Daily Mail has also taken notice of the wonderful efforts of South Korea with an article displaying just how elaborate and vibrant the Seoul parade can get, make sure you check out the article here. You might have seen London celebrating Buddha’s birthday too at Leicester Square last weekend with fun activities and displays, but it was no where near as impressive as the efforts of East Asia.

Seoul Parade - Image from Daily Mail

Seoul Parade – Image from Daily Mail

Traditional foods eaten for this holiday consist of sanchae bibimbap (산채비빔밥) – traditional bibimbap with mountain vegetables, jjintteok (찐떡) – bubble-shaped rice cakes, hwajeon (화전) – round rice cakes with flowers on top, eochae (어채) – a fish dish, eomandu (어만두) – a kind of fish dumpling with meat and vegetables inside, and minariganghoe (미나리강회) which is a raw fish and parsley dish. If you fancy cooking any of these dishes we’ve searched the internet and gathered some recipes for you here: Sanchae bibimbap, hwajeon, eochaeeomandu. Finding recipes for jjintteok and minariganghoe proved a little tricky, but there should be enough dishes for you to fully get into the spirit of celebration for Buddha’s birthday South Korean style!

Another fun and creative way to join in with the festivities is to try making your own lanterns. This site has some great tips on how to make your own, though some of the designs look a bit beyond us… we can barely make paper planes! Traditionally for Buddha’s birthday, each member of a family will have a lantern and these lanterns are then lit on the evening of Buddha’s birthday, brightening up the whole of South Korea!

We hope that we’ll get the chance to see these bright and beautiful celebrations in person one day, it sounds absolutely magical!

To everyone celebrating this holiday, have a fun and fantastic weekend! :)

Sources: Haidongta, Wiki, About, Life in Korea

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