Buddha’s Birthday: My First Festival in South Korea
I can finally call South Korea my “new home” and begin to settle down. What better way to do so than celebrating a national holiday with locals? May 25th was Buddha’s Birthday in Korea and people celebrated by going to nearby temples or hiking mountains together. It was a great event to bond with my fiances family and to get to know Korean culture better!
What It’s About
Buddha’s Birthday, the birthday of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, is a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mahayana Buddhism. The exact date of Buddha’s Birthday is based on the Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar and the Hindu calendar, and hence it is also called Vesak. The day is an official holiday in Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea. The date falls from the end of April to the end of May in the Gregorian calendar.
Celebrations in South Korea
This day is called 석가탄신일 (Seokga tansinil), meaning “Buddha’s birthday” or 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osin nal) meaning “the day when the Buddha came”. Lotus lanterns cover entire temples throughout the month. On the day of Buddha’s birth, many temples provide free meals and tea to all visitors and the most common meal is bibimbap!
My Korean family and I visited Songnisan Mountain and the nearby Beopjusa Temple in Chungbuk Province. It’s one of the only times during the year they do not charge any entrance fees for the national park but people also come in masses during that day.
We first headed to the temple to get our free bibimbap dish and then enjoyed the show planned by the temple. They had singers and a dance competition and everything was decorated with colorful lanterns.
Things I noticed about Korean culture during that holiday is definitely how much they love hiking! You can spot Koreans for miles according to how they’re dressed for they holidays. They gear up on outdoor wear like they’re conquering Mt. Everest! The second thing is definitely their value for family. Koreans love their family and hang out with them as much as they possibly can. Family trips don’t end when they children are grown up but it becomes even more important to carry on the tradition.
Starting a new life in a foreign country is so much easier when you get to celebrate local holidays early after you arrived! I remember the first time I moved to Guangzhou, China, I got to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and when I moved to Changsha, China, it was the Dragon Boat festival. Nothing better than unique festivals different than back home!