Cheonggyecheon by nightEven though Christmas is a national holiday and Christians outnumber Buddhists here, everyone knows that the really big fanfare happens in the spring, to celebrate the birth of the Buddha. The entire country is decked out in lanterns for a couple of weeks, and temples all over the peninsula open their doors to worshippers and revellers (often with free tea!). Exploring Seoul by lantern-light and watching the temple parades are generally reckoned to be one of the highlights of a stay in Korea.

JogyesaWe arrived at the Jongno area (right on the parade route) just in time to hear the drums and yells of the approaching marchers. Each temple had sent a contingent of followers equipped with lanterns and floats, and for the next few hours we shouted and waved at their efforts and tried to guess at the mythological figures depicted (once we had finished scurrying around the roads trying to puzzle out the constantly-changing route, that is). The photographs below (culled from a much larger set) should give you some idea of what we were shown – if you find yourself in Korea during May, I recommend you experience it too.

Buddhist lantern (1)Buddhist lantern (2)

Buddhist lantern (3)Buddhist lantern (4)

Dragon float (4)Dragon float (3)

Dragon float (1)Dragon float (2)

Peacock float (1)Peacock float (2)

Phoenix float (1)Phoenix float (2)

Dragon lantern (1)Dragon lantern (2)

Tiger lanternSnake hood Buddhist

Buddha plus bodyguardsReclining float

All-encompassing BuddhaBuddhist crew (3)

Buddhist crew (1)Buddhist crew (2)

Elephant floatDragon riding float

Eco-floatFish float

Baseball floatAccessibility float

Jongno TowerClimbing monk

Lotus-elephant-lotus-BuddhaBuddhist triffid-lotus

Zhang Gu (Crayon Shin-chan)Mascot lantern

Buddhist road tripTank engine float

Pimped-up Buddhist monster truckBuddhacopter

Pig lantern (1)Pig lantern (2)