DAEGU | Lantern Festival – Ceremony + Flying Lanterns

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A week long lantern festival came to an end last Saturday, but not before one last brilliant moment of glory: hundreds of colored lanterns fueled by candlelight drifted up into the midnight blue sky, carrying hundreds of wishes from the people below.

In short, it was a magical night. One we almost missed because we were feeling tired and lazy and didn’t want to figure out public transportation or deal with crowds of people. We arrived at 6:30 pm, found some seats behind the band in the upper rows of the small outdoor stadium and waited through lots of singing and dancing (that invited audience participation) and a lot of talking by Buddhist monks followed by drums and then more talking by various other people. We began to wonder if the lantern release was ever going to happen — and who was going to do the releasing? The only lanterns we could see were the hanging kind.

An hour later we had barreled through our stash of snacks and were anxiously waiting for something — anything — to happen beyond people talking on stage. Then the strangest thing occurred: without instruction the people with lanterns decided it was time. One lantern weaved its way through the darkness, then another, then another, and soon everyone who had a lantern now held them glowing in their hands, ready to take flight.

Finally the ‘official’ word was given to release the lanterns and the sky became a constellation of colored dots. They drifted up in the air like bubbles in some underwater fantasy world. We took a few photos but Sly’s phone was low on batteries and my camera’s memory card was full (rookie move) so at some point we stopped taking photos. “Let’s be in the moment and enjoy this while it lasts, ” Sly said as he reached for my hand.

We watched transfixed. Some lanterns burned out and fell back to the ground. Others, pushed by a gust of wind, blew into a tree and remained lit. Someone in the audience screamed which created a domino effect of screaming. But most of the lanterns made it — wherever ‘it’ was. All those wishes floating out in the universe. I hope they all come true.

DETAILS | Daegu Lantern Festival

DAEGU LANTERN FESTIVAL | Occurs around Buddha’s birthday — the 8th day of the 4th month according to the lunar calendar. Usually sometime in May. // The Daegu lantern festival consisted of several parts: 1. a festival by the Sincheon River that lasted for 4 days and included lit water floats, games, vendors, hanging lanterns and entertainment 2. the lantern release ceremony at Duryu Park Stadium (across from the E-World entrance) 3. A parade of lights and floats following the lantern release and 4. the ceremonies that occur on Buddha’s actual birthday at the temple. During the entire month lanterns were strung up all over town and especially at temples and hermitage sites. We were really confused about where to get the flying lanterns. I read that we could make them at the festival by the river, but we only saw the hanging variety or lotus flower style lanterns. At the lantern release ceremony we noticed everyone had the flying lanterns! I think they can be bought at Duryu Park — we entered the stadium through a back entrance on the hill so it’s possible we missed the vendors selling the lanterns. I imagine if you entered the stadium on the ground level it would be more obvious. I also read that if you bought/had hanging lanterns, that you could walk in the parade following the ceremony. We’;ll have to check that out next year. TIPS: take public transportation and arrive by 7pm for the lantern release. After 7pm, Just behind the last row of seats in the bleachers facing the stadium is a nice grassy hill where we saw people picnicking on blankets. This seemed like a much better/less crowded way to experience the festival.

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  • funnelcloud rachel
    May 13, 2015 at 1:53 am

    So cool! I’ve always wanted to attend a festival where they release the flying lanterns en masse. A few years ago we saw people releasing at the beach at night and that was cool – but I always wondered how environmentally (un)friendly they are?

  • veronika
    May 13, 2015 at 2:00 am

    We were wondering the same thing, especially when over water. The lanterns are super thin so maybe they kind of dissolve if it hits water? In this case though – at a park where the majority of the lanterns were released from the arena floor — we watched a lot of the lanterns burn out then float back to the ground. Assuming that was the case maybe they can just clean the arena floor?

  • veronika
    May 13, 2015 at 2:09 am

    I googled it out of curiosity — seems like they do make “eco-friendly” lanterns out of rice paper and bamboo but I don’t know if the ones at this festival were made that way.

  • young soo
    May 13, 2015 at 3:38 am

    Beautiful! Your photographic prowess is just amazing in capturing those images!! Awesome!

  • Karen
    May 13, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Enjoyed your lantern week photos! They had a lantern fest recently outside of Charlotte (Gastonia, NC). My mom wanted to go but I didn’t have the ambition (Gastonia is a little foreign to me). Apparently a couple lanterns got stuck in a cell phone tower and caused a small fire – oops. But it was put out quickly. Anyway, GREAT photos.

  • veronika
    May 13, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Thank you, Abunim! It was quite impressive for our little town!

  • veronika
    May 13, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Aww you should have gone!

    The fire hazard element was another facet of the lantern release that we wondered would prevent it from ever happening in a lawsuit crazed country like the us. We were sitting by a tree that had at least 5 flaming lanterns stuck to it. Thanfully nothing/nobody caught on fire. Wonder if they’ll continue the fest in NC after the cell tower fire?