Birth of the Savior

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In keeping with the theme this week, here is another post about holidays in Korea.

Buddha’s Birthday is an important holiday in South Korea, and so May 14th is a day for festivals, food, and parades. One year, I made a lantern at the temple pictured above (they had a class) and then marched in the parade through Seoul. It was actually a lot of fun.

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Celebrating the life of the Buddha isn’t as religious as it used to be. This is hard to explain to Americans, since the Americas are very religious compared to the rest of the world. But basically, think of it this way:

Koreans think of Buddhism as a set of traditions. There is a Buddhist ceremony for most things, and those rituals are a part of their culture. For example, when someone dies, of course you are going to have a ceremony at the cremation place. It’s not a religious act. It’s a tradition that helps people to deal with grief.

Some people here are Christian. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t practice the Buddhist traditions. Christians here don’t have graveside funerals with talk of God. They do the same Buddhist ceremony at the crematorium that everyone else does. Why? Because Buddhism isn’t exactly a religion anymore for most people, and they don’t think of it that way. It’s just “Korean things” that Koreans do because they always have.

So everyone, no matter what they believe, enjoys Buddha’s birthday. It’s a day to make a lantern, watch a parade, and enjoy some of our wonderful street food. It is a religious holiday for some, but it’s mostly only older Koreans who see Buddhism as a religion.

On a side note, Christmas wasn’t a holiday until recently in Korea. The small percentage of Christians pushed and pushed, and eventually the government gave in and allowed it to be a national holiday. However, since most Koreans are not Christian, no one was sure what to do with the day off. Therefore, it has become a date night.

Yes, you heard me right. Christmas is the hottest date night of the year here. Foreigners are often shocked, but Korea is not a historically Christian country so I am not sure why anyone is shocked that Christmas isn’t a holiday to celebrate the birth of anyone, but instead a day to ask out that girl you’ve been to shy to talk to.

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