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The Lantern Parade: Spirits and Ghosts in Korea’s Traditional Festivals


Imagine a world bathed in the soft glow of thousands of lanterns, each a shimmering testament to the ancient spirits that dance in the shadows. This is the magical scene that unfolds during Korea’s traditional lantern parades, events where the boundaries between the living and the departed blur, and the air vibrates with the echoes of ancient beliefs and stories. These vibrant celebrations offer a captivating glimpse into the spiritual heart of Korean culture, where lanterns act as bridges to the unseen world, guiding both spirits and souls.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of Korean lantern parades, exploring their rich history, the symbolism embedded in their very essence, and the diverse ways they continue to connect generations to the traditions of the past. We’ll unravel the threads of spirituality that weave through these events, revealing the profound connection between lanterns, spirits, and the human experience.

Table of Contents

  • The History and Significance of Lanterns
  • The Lantern Parade: A Journey into the Spirit World
  • Famous Lantern Parades in Korea
  • The Art of Lantern Making
  • FAQs
  • Conclusion

The History and Significance of Lanterns

The use of lanterns in Korea dates back centuries, deeply intertwined with the nation’s rich cultural tapestry. These luminous objects, radiating warmth and light, have long held a special significance, symbolizing not only the practical function of illumination, but also the spiritual aspirations and anxieties of the people.

In ancient times, lanterns served as a vital tool for navigating the darkness, guiding weary travelers on their journeys. Their flickering flames, like miniature suns, provided a sense of comfort and security in the face of the unknown. As time passed, this practical function evolved into a symbolic one. Lanterns became associated with the idea of guidance, hope, and the search for enlightenment, mirroring the desire to find direction and meaning in a world that often felt unpredictable.

The influence of Buddhism on Korean culture further solidified the spiritual significance of lanterns. In the Buddhist tradition, light is associated with wisdom and enlightenment, and lanterns are seen as a tangible representation of this inner illumination. They are often used in temple ceremonies and festivals, symbolizing the release of negativity and the pursuit of spiritual liberation.

The Lantern Parade: A Journey into the Spirit World

Lantern parades are more than just visual spectacles; they are ritualistic journeys into the spirit world, where the living and the departed commune through the medium of light. These events are steeped in traditional beliefs about the existence of spirits and ancestors, who are believed to play a vital role in the lives of the living.

In many Korean lantern parades, lanterns are seen as offerings to the spirits, a way of appeasing them and seeking their blessings. The vibrant colors and intricate designs of the lanterns are believed to attract the spirits, while the flickering flames provide a connection to the otherworldly realm.

These parades often feature specific rituals and customs, designed to honor the spirits and ensure their benevolent presence. For example, lanterns might be released into the night sky, symbolizing the release of burdens and the offering of prayers. Other times, lanterns are carried in processions, their light illuminating the way for spirits and ancestors to return to their homes.

Famous Lantern Parades in Korea

Korean lantern parades are celebrated throughout the country, each with its own unique traditions and significance. Some of the most famous examples include:

  • Buyeo Lotus Lantern Festival: Held in the historic city of Buyeo, this festival is a spectacular celebration of Buddhist traditions. Thousands of lotus-shaped lanterns illuminate the night sky, creating a breathtaking and ethereal spectacle. The festival draws crowds from all over Korea and beyond, attracting both tourists and locals seeking a spiritual experience.

  • Seoul Lantern Festival: This vibrant and modern event takes place in the heart of the Korean capital, attracting millions of visitors each year. The city comes alive with light displays, interactive installations, and performances, showcasing the creativity and artistry of lantern makers. While maintaining a focus on traditional elements, the Seoul Lantern Festival is also a celebration of contemporary culture and innovation.

  • Other Notable Parades: Beyond these well-known events, numerous other lantern festivals are held across Korea, each offering a unique glimpse into the cultural diversity of the nation. From the serene beauty of the Andong Lantern Festival to the vibrant energy of the Busan Lantern Festival, these celebrations provide a chance to experience the magic of lanterns in diverse settings.

The Art of Lantern Making

The beauty and symbolism of Korean lantern parades are a direct result of the artistry and skill of lantern makers. This tradition has been passed down through generations, with techniques honed over centuries. The most traditional lanterns are crafted using materials like bamboo, paper, and silk, each element carrying its own symbolic meaning.

For example, bamboo, known for its resilience and strength, is often used to create the framework of the lantern, symbolizing the enduring nature of tradition. The paper used for the lantern’s skin is carefully selected for its delicate texture and translucence, allowing the light to filter through in a mesmerizing way. Silk, with its luxurious qualities, is sometimes used to embellish the lantern, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication.

These natural materials are not just functional; they also carry symbolic significance, connecting the lantern to the natural world and the traditions of the past. The intricate designs painted or embroidered on the lantern surfaces often depict auspicious symbols, traditional motifs, or stories from Korean folklore. Each lantern becomes a miniature artwork, reflecting the cultural heritage and artistic sensibilities of its creators.


Why are lanterns used in Korean festivals?

Lanterns play a crucial role in Korean festivals, serving as a symbolic representation of light, hope, and guidance. They are believed to connect the living with the spirit world, offering prayers, appeasing ancestors, and seeking blessings.

What is the significance of the colors of lanterns?

Each color used in lantern designs has a specific meaning. For example, red represents joy and good fortune, while blue symbolizes peace and tranquility. The use of color adds another layer of meaning and symbolism to these vibrant celebrations.

Are there any specific rituals associated with lantern parades?

Yes, lantern parades often involve specific rituals, such as releasing lanterns into the night sky or carrying lanterns in processions. These rituals are believed to honor spirits, ensure their benevolent presence, and connect the living with the departed.

Can I participate in a lantern parade?

Yes, many lantern parades welcome participation from visitors and locals alike. Often, there are opportunities to make your own lantern, join processions, or release lanterns during the festival.

Where can I learn more about Korean lantern traditions?

To learn more about Korean lantern traditions, you can explore websites dedicated to Korean culture, visit museums showcasing traditional crafts, or attend lantern festivals in Korea.


The lantern parades of Korea are more than just beautiful displays of light; they are a testament to the enduring spirit of tradition, a celebration of the intricate connection between the living and the departed, and a reminder of the timeless power of hope and guidance. As the lanterns illuminate the night, they remind us that even in the darkest of times, there is always a spark of light waiting to be ignited, a beacon of hope guiding us through the unknown.

These vibrant celebrations offer a glimpse into the soul of Korean culture, inviting us to explore the rich tapestry of beliefs, rituals, and artistry that have shaped this unique tradition. So, take a moment to reflect on the next time you witness a lantern parade, and let the flickering light guide you on your own journey of discovery.