Buddha’s Birthday

It’s Monday night and I’m on the bus on my way home from Korean class. I’m tired and ready to get home. As the bus goes on I see a couple of color lights in the distance that instantly wake me up. These lights can only mean one thing: Buddha’s Birthday or 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osinnal) (the day Buddha descended). Buddha’s Birthday is a national holiday in Korea and the country goes all out. Streets are adorned with lanterns, there is a special parade of lanterns and temples program lots of activities for visitors to do.

During this time, I like to make my yearly Buddhist temple visit.  As soon as you walk through the massive, wooden, painted doors you are greeted by colorful lanterns floating in the sky. Greens, blues, reds and oranges dancing in the sky creating circle shadow patterns on the ground. As an artist-and avid color lover- this is something that I look forward to every year. Even the locals, who get to experience this every year, seem amazed and delighted by the sight of the lanterns.

If you go on the day of Buddha’s birthday, the temples will be extremely crowded. It kind of is like a party; it is their version of Christmas. They have free food, which you have to stand in long lines for, and you will hear monks constantly chanting. If you go to the temple rooms, you will see people chanting and bowing to a Buddha statue. Many statues have offerings of oranges, apples and rice; you can even buy rice bags at the entrance to give as an offering. As a westerner who grew up in an Evangelical church, there is so much to see and take in that is completely opposite to what I have grown up with and know.  It really is an experience.

It doesn’t matter which temple you go to, how big or how small or where it is, you will not be disappointed. There are temples hiding in mountains like Seokbulsa in Busan,  temples in the middle of the city like Bongeunsa in Seoul and temples near the water like Haedong Yonggungsa in Busan. Just make sure you go to a temple as soon as you see the lanterns. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

P.S.: I sell prints of the smiling Buddha party drawing. If you are interested send me a direct message on instagram: @raaqueelc

Lunar New Year’s in Korea


새해 복 많이 바드세요! 

Happy New Year from Korea! 

Recently, many countries in Asia, such as Indonesia, China, Malaysia, North and South Korea and Singapore, celebrated the start of the Lunar Calendar and the year of the rooster. Each country has its own seperate traditions that they follow. Usually, when you think of the Chinese New Year many immediately imagine a Red Dragon sorrounded by clouds of smoke accompanied by fireworks and loud bangs and clings. That is they way they celebrate in China; but in Korea, 설날 (New Years, Seollal) is a quieter celebration with an emphasis on family and traditions.


Families travel to visit their grandparents, family burial sites and temples. Traveling around New Years is worse than going to the aiport to pick your family up for Thanksigiving. The traffic lasts for hours and train and bus tickets sell out months in advance just so people can make the treck. It is a nightmare traveling during the actual holiday day.

2017 is the year of the Rooster

During the celebration, Koreans honor their ancestors. They lay out a table with food they have been preparing for a week and bow to honor their ancestors, express gratitude and respect, and after bowing everyone eats. There is so much food to eat, think cena navideña en la casa de la abuela with the tias and tios; but the main dish is the traditional new years sliced rice cake soup 떡국 (tteoguk) sorrounded by staples of Korean food such as rice, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Another highlight of the holiday is 새배(seabae), when the younger kids wearing hanboks bow down to their elders, usually grandparents, and say 새해 복 많이 바드세요 (sehe bok manhi paduseyo) which roughly translates into “I hope you get a lot of good fortune this new year.” After bowing, kids receive money from their elders in red envelopes and some words of encouragement. For the remainder of the day, families visit their other relatives or play traditional games such as 윷놀이 (yutnori).

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Like many foreginers who don’t have families to visit, I take advantage of the long weekend holiday to travel around Korea. Korea has so many gorgoues destinations that have been overlooked by many. Though the country is small, it boasts of many beautiful locations that should be on every traveler’s radar. Locations that vary between mountains, national parks, temples and coffee shops (so many coffe shops). Many people are busy visiting their families so many popular destinations are eerily empty which makes it a perfect for touring and sightseeing.

Seoraksan National Park

If you find yourself in Korea during 설날 (New Year’s) you may be invited to join in on the cultural traditions or you may go on your own adventure and explore some of the destinations Korea has to offer.