A Step Back in Time: Seoul Lantern Festival 2012

Category : Korean Cultures / Travel/Events
Nov 26, 2014

The tradition of lanterns in Korea dates back millennia beginning in China.  The first lanterns were made during the Three Kingdoms area by a military strategist, Zhuge Liang (181-234).  He constructed a bamboo frame and covered it with colorful oiled rice paper.  He then placed a candle inside the lantern.  The heat caused the lantern to rise up like a hot air balloon and was used to communicate on the battle field.


This lantern shows an archer in the army. He wears a tradition miliary Hanbok.

In the Yuan Dynasty, paper lanterns were used as symbols of luck, hope or good wishes during celebrations.  After this time, the use of paper lanterns evolved and became an important part of Chinese culture.  Korea adopted this tradition and lanterns came to hold significant meaning in Korea too. (History of Chinese Paper Lanterns)


Even in ancient times, Koreans studied hard.  These lanterns portray girls reading books made from Hanji.

Lantern festivals are now a prominent part of many Asian cultures.  Korea usually uses paper lotus lanterns to symbolize the start of spring and to mark Buddha’s birthday in May. (Lantern Festivals) However, this month Seoul is commemorating thousands of years of Korean history and culture through a large lantern exhibition.  The Cheonggyecheon (Cheonggye Stream), located downtown between Cheonggye Plaza and Seun Bridge, is hosting the 4th annual Seoul Lantern Festival.  The festival began on Nov. 2 and will last until Nov. 18.  The lanterns are lit from 5pm-11pm each day.


This lantern illustrates part of a parade celebration. The man on horseback is honored because he passed the public service exams.  They are having a party for him.

On Saturday, WorkNPlay decided to go see what the hype was about.  Indeed, there was hype!  We arrived at 7pm and it was packed.  We couldn’t enjoy the festival to its full potential nor did we have a chance to walk beside the stream.  There was a three hour line up to get down to the Cheonggyecheon from the Cheonggye Plaza.  Our group decided that it wasn’t worth the wait so we viewed the huge lanterns from above.


This is a lantern depicting one of the gates to the palace grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The lanterns are man-sized representations of Korean people in ancient times participating in old traditions and daily life.  Each lantern was accurate in design and it was easy to recognize the cultural depictions.  They were brightly lit and crafted using beautiful colored paper called Hanji.  Hanji making is an ancient craft from the Korean Three Kingdoms period that began shortly after paper production began in China.  Hanji is made from the bark of the Mulberry tree which is known for strong fibers.  It produces smooth, durable paper and Korea quickly became known for Hanji throughout Asia.  When used for lanterns, Hanji allows the light to pass easily through and the lanterns appear to glow.  The color of the paper is also deeply enhanced.


This lantern shows a group of musicians playing traditional musicial instruments.  The man in the front plays the Kayageum, an instrument similar to the guitar. 

The festival offers lantern making activities.  We saw handmade lotus lanterns floating in the stream.  We caught a glimpse of the activity area and it was jammed with people, so again we decided against participating.  The displays at the Seoul Lantern Festival were truly stunning and impressive.  However, try to go late on a weeknight when the crowds have died down.  As well, this coming weekend should be less busy since it is not the start of the festival.


This lantern depicts travelers.  They wear everyday traditional Hanbok and have rucksacks and walking canes.

To learn more about Seoul Lantern Festival click here and here.

Tags : Korea. Culture. Festival. Seoul.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.