Sunday, May 3, 2009

Buddha's Birthday

The religious stats in Korea breakdown as such: about 25% Christian (of whatever denomination, Catholicism included), 25% Buddhist, and 50% apathetic/agnostic. Buddhist and Christian holidays, therefore, carry the same amount of weight. Buddha's birthday—the eighth day of the fourth lunar month—is a government holiday which normally means you get off of work. But when a holiday falls on a weekend, no dice: no token Friday or Monday off, you celebrate the holiday just on the holy day in question.

Saturday was Buddha's birthday (부처님 오신 날 or 석가탄신일, "the day of Buddha's birthday" or "the day that Buddha arrived"). For the past couple weeks, places have been preparing by stringing up paper lanterns:

They're not quite everywhere, mostly at the Buddhist temples (of which there are two along the bus route I take to the subway station) and also outside a few of the stores and restaurants, presumably the ones owned and operated by Buddhists. They look dingy by day, but at night when they're lit up it's a sight to behold—like giant Christmas lights. Traditionally, temples offer free food and tea all day on 부처님 오신 날, but I didn't learn this until it was too late for me to go try and still make it Seoul in time for the language exchange I found. Alas.

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