Bright lanterns, big park festivalPaper lanterns have long been a mesmerizing part of traditional festivals across Asia. Every summer, the Urabon festival in Japan honors people’s ancestral spirits. At the end of the festival, families light candles in paper lanterns, then send them off on the rivers to light the way for the departing spirits.
In Korea, a highlight of Buddha’s birthday celebrations is the Feast of Lanterns. In Seoul, for several days the streets are strung with paper lanterns that are set aglow (using electricity) at night. On Buddha’s birthday, a procession of celebrants carry lanterns to the temple.
In Vietnam, the mid-Autumn Festival includes a nighttime lantern procession. And in China, some say the lantern festival on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year evolved from a belief that celestial spirits could be seen flying in the light of the first full moon of the year. Elsewhere, lanterns are lit to pray for peace and to celebrate the harvest.
So it is under the theme “Asia United Under One Light” that the Chinese Lantern Festival opens for two months at Seoul Grand Park starting tomorrow. The festival, coinciding with the park’s 20th anniversary, overlaps with Buddha’s birthday, which falls on May 26 this year.
To pull off this affair, 250 Chinese artists were employed. Designers are busy turning the lake at the park into a spectacle; the entry path will be lined with lanterns depicting five traditional important factors of life: health, success, college entrance, marriage and birth.
Ranging from traditional to modern, the lanterns at the park feature elaborate designs like traditional temples and large dragons, while some take cues from hit movie series like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Organizers are also highlighting current news issues with a Goguryeo mural and Tokto islet lantern. Last year, China claimed the Goguryeo Dynasty (B.C. 37 to A.D. 668) was part of their history, though Korean historians say it belonged to Korea. Tokto is the islet in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) whose ownership has been debated between Korea and Japan for years.
The public won’t have a free moment. Chinese acrobats, dragon dances and lantern making sessions are scheduled, and people will be able to sample Chinese dishes such as dim sum, fried and marinated meats, and a mushroom tofu dish from Beijing.
The festival, begun in Beijing in 1988, has been held in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. It arrived in Korea in 2002 to celebrate a decade of diplomatic relations between the two countries and has traveled to four major cities in the nation.
by Joe Yong-hee
For more information, go to www.goodchina.net. Admission is 10,000 won ($8.75), or 9,000 won for children.