|Festival program with historical notes and a (rather Buddhist) acknowledgement of the Sewol ferry disaster.|
Except, as usual in Korea, I was mostly wrong.
First was the free, reserved, street-side seating for foreigners, which is a wonderful perk. Friendly Koreans in bright pink silk clothes (yes, both men and women) cleaned off our plastic lawn chairs, distributed English (!) festival programs, gave out do-it-yourself lanterns and votive candles, and even came around with lighters as dusk fell.
|I love, love that no colors are off-limits for men in Korea.|
|Jessica successfully put together her lantern.|
The parade was at least two hours long but without a single horse, car, truck, tractor, or bike; and no promotional floats (besides a couple of Buddhist schools). This was indeed a parade like I had never seen. It consisted of hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people of every age walking past in groups while holding aloft a great variety of softly-lit paper and silk lanterns that had symbolic meaning. Without the entertaining music and dancers (canceled in light of the Sewol ferry disaster), the parade was relatively quiet--perhaps even solemn--which seemed rather fitting for a religious festival. The ubiquitous yellow ribbons on wrists and lanterns were a constant reminder of the ferry disaster.
Many groups passed of different ages and genders; even a group of people in wheelchairs were pushed past. My favorite part? The women's swishing hanboks (traditional silk gowns) and their soft chanting were mesmerizing; the closest comparison I have is the sound of the Orange City marching band's wooden clogs in the Tulip Festival parade. If you've been there, you know what I mean by that almost-haunting sound.
A few human-propelled floats punctuated the walking groups, featuring enormous paper lanterns that symbolized aspects of Buddhism. Most of these large floats were led by ranks of brown-robed, bald Buddhists of every age and gender, who chanted together as they walked.
I can't easily describe the feeling of being there, watching so many people pass in the growing dark, lit only by their carried lanterns that symbolized their deeply-held beliefs. So, here are a few pictures to give you a small sense of what we saw.
|Giant, fire-breathing dragons; elephant mama and child (Buddhism began in India, but I don't know the specific connection to elephants).|
|The swastika is the traditional symbol of buddhism (centuries before the Nazis got hold of it); |
many lions and dragons were features in the parade.
|One of the Four Guardsmen (left); "lotus boy" on a lion and elephant. Not sure what the specific significance is.|
|Groups included both devout ajummas in traditional gowns and giddy ajummas in regular clothes.|
|Children also carried an array of lanterns.|
|Strangenesses even amidst the very foreign religious procession.|