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South Korea lights up for Buddha's birthday

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Elizabeth Groeschen

(Read caption) A dragon lantern in Seoul’s annual Lantern Parade.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A 2,555th birthday only comes once, so proper celebrations are called for. Seoul prepared for its Lotus Lantern Festival commemorating the birth of Buddha by stringing up colorful paper lanterns, giving the South Korean capital the cheerful appearance of having been invaded by incandescent gumdrops.

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South Korea celebrates Buddha’s birthday on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month (May 10 this year) even though less than a quarter of Koreans identify as Buddhists. The celebration is one of the biggest on the holiday calendar with historical references dating back to AD 866.

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The highlight is the Lantern Parade. As dusk falls, thousands of monks and laypeople carry candlelit lanterns on poles. The joyful procession continues to Jogye Temple, where a canopy of more lanterns hangs over the courtyard, turning the night sky into a nimbus of brilliant color.