Are you looking for something fun to to in Seoul during the month of November? What about the beautiful night-time event of 청계천 서울 등불 축제 Seoul Lantern Festival in Chungye-Chun on the river!
Chungye-chun is a small river that goes from the Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemoon Station~ normally during the day the river route is a nice walking path below the busy streets with water fountains and small cross bridges, but during the festival it becomes a parade of glowing figures dancing on the water for about 1.5km!
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The majority of the lanterns are life size lanterns of Korean people from back in the day doing activities from their times. The route starts with a gigantic wide island like lantern that depicts the geographic look of old Hanyang (Modern Seoul), and moving down the paths you can observe royal court life, upper class Koreans, working class, legends, and finally kids characters~ something for everyone and the scale is stunning!
The Seoul Lantern festival started in Chungye-chun in 2008. This particular one pictured in our post is the 2012 festival which had 35,000 lanterns set up for people to enjoy. YES 35,000 !! Back in 2010 they only had around 10,000 on display, so the festival has grown so much in the last few years to a giant event! The whole area was absolutely glowing with lights! If these lanterns look a bit familiar it is because you can often view similar traditional lanterns in the spring for Buddha’s Birthday here in Korea during the Spring, but that event is mostly religious themes from Buddhism (naturally)
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The lanterns at 서울 등불 축제 are themed around showcasing the beauty of Korean culture~ huge traditional castles, hanboks, even traditional Korean animation characters! Overall the Seoul lantern festival features about 600 years of Korea’s historical culture
Soak up that culture Nara!
The scale of the main gate was so impressive, I think it is one of the largest Korean traditional lanterns that I have come across since I moved here!
royal court musicians playing traditional Korean instruments
Royal palace guards~ these guys are so big it is amazing to think they are just made from paper and wire!
The river path on a very quiet night that they turned the lights off due to rain. Make note~ if it rained the day you plan on going they may end the show early in order to let the wires dry properly. We learned that the hard way and had to come out a 2nd time!
Korean students at 학당 (aka old-school version of 학교 school lessons) back in the day
The scene above is depicting the 삼일유가 Samil Yuga celebration held after someone won first place in the State Examination. After a scholar won first place in an Examination he would wear silk clothing and a hat with a 어사화 (paper flower that was presented by the King) and would spend 3 days visiting the other examiners, scholars who had won first place before him and relatives. When the winner arrived in each town they would play drums and musical instraments at the village entrance to announce him.
Korean Peddler carrying items to sell at the market
One thing I appreciated was the fact the city had posted explanations for what the lanterns were depicting in Korean and in English next to each display! This was really great for some of the things I was unfamiliar with or not sure exactly what I was looking at.
Daily lives of the common families in Korea
I’m kind of glad Ajuma do not walk around like this anymore hehe!
Washing laundry and caring for children
Most of the lower-class females depicted in the lamps have breast exposed like this, but both Nara and I did not know the exact reason so I read up a bit and asked my in-laws!
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This was something the working class used to do for ease of breast feeding since normally the chima skirt comes up quite high. It became very popular in the late Chosun dynasty ~ even around the 1950′s you could see this in some poor areas or snapped in historical photographs. This was a sign (sort of a fashion trend) that they gave birth to a boy and have fulfilled their duties as a woman since during that time having a boy to carry the family name was very important.
Girls playing 널뛰기 a seesaw-like traditional Korean game where you jump high (even up to 10~15 feet) up in the air using leverage from the opposing side. If you ever get a chance to see this with real people it is really awesome… and also makes your stomach churn a bit *_* they go so high!
Korean Wedding ceremony
Inside one of the tunnels they had rows of beautiful Korean dragon lamps~
Great for photos… I was so frozen though >_< hard to dress cute when it is this cold!
Inside the larger tunnel they had some craft activities for people to DIY lanterns of their own to keep or add to one of several displays. This was one of the larger paper snakes for 2013, each scale was added by a visitor and had declarations of love, wishes, drawings, etc for the coming year… eventually it started to look more like a shaggy sheep dog though lol!
a few vendors had beautiful lanterns and light up arrangements for sale.
Girls above assembling colored wish lamps to float on the river
DYI booths setup where you can make your own lanterns! The make your own lantern experience costs 5000~10000원 depending on the size of the lantern you pick. Some crafts (like the dragon scales) could be added to a larger display, others you could take home if you wished.
Some of the cuter white lanterns~ mainly kids wanted to paint these to take home!
Next to the DYI section, they had a special section of the river where you can purchase a wish lantern for 3000원. After writing what you want on the paper you assemble the two pieces and receive a small candle to light before you send it floating to join the others~
The end of the river had piles of them, so pretty!
My favorite craft was the brick wall~ for a few won you would get a plastic lego-looking brick that you would draw and write on before adding it to the giant wall! This display had lots of super cute drawings~ mainly from couples. Naturally I snapped a few pics to share, cant help myself! lol
Another one of the areas of the river under the bridge had a huge row of lamps depicting children from all around the world! Some of these had a lot of detail in the clothing, it was very impressive!
The Kimono, Obi, and fan on the Japanese girl had a ton of little painted details~ so pretty
A musician sat down under this bridge and played some beautiful songs~ quickly the area was flooded with people to hang out and listen! Usually you only see random people appear to play in Hongdae, so it was a nice surprise.
A beautiful river of lantern fish~ the photos do not do this area justice at all! This was my favorite area of the river for sure~ so many pieces reflecting off the water made it feel kind of magical.
Every fish in the huge school was hand painted with additional details!
Another school of fish, these had wires to hold them up in the air and looked like they were swimming through the sky and in the trees.
The characters shown are 견우와 직녀 Gyunwoo and Jingnyu (aka Orihime and Hikoboshi in Japan, from the Tanabata festival~ although the tale is Chinese in original origin) Lovers separated by the Milky way only allowed to meet once every year.
This photo is from the first night we went and they turned off the lights due to rain
This area of the river was for towns and businesses to showcase their own lanterns
GIANT fruit display sponsored by Singapore tourism department I believe. In Singapore pineapples are apparently used for wishing wealth and luck!
Lamps donated from Japan~ more like hanging art panels though!
The city of Yeongju is Korea’s leading producer of apples
I totally forgot what town the mascot to the left was from, she is pretty cute in a weird way though! Not sure what she is supposed to be, some kind of vegetable the town is famous for maybe~ lol. Also aw~ mini castle guard!
Finally we reached the character zone of the show! Beloved Korean children’s character Pororo made an appearance of course and had a huge crowd of kids around it while the theme song blasted from some hidden speakers in the bushes.
They also had some classic western characters like superman and a hilarious squatting Spiderman suspended in the air.
The Batman came out quite nice, except for his bitty baby legs hehe
Another popular Korean kids character currently~ Robocar Poli!
and the final of the show was a GIANT lantern of Korea’s favorite robot Taekwon V 로보트 태권 V
He was HUGE!!!!! Great ending to a really fun night enjoying lanterns~ we spent over an hour walking around the river to look at everything because they had so many pieces. If you are in Seoul around November and can make it to the area I highly recommend checking this show out at least once because it is so large and beautiful~ plus it is a really great way to soak up some info on Korean culture.
Seoul Lantern Festival Location & Info
The Seoul Lantern Festival is an annual event that has been held since 2008
When: About 2 weeks in November. Exact dates can vary, but in 2012 it ran from Nov. 2nd~18th
Cost: Free to attend, some craft activities may be available for a small fee.
Where: Cheonggyecheon Stream (From Cheonggye Plaza to Seungyo Bridge; 1.5km)
Address: Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Hours: Normally 5pm-11pm
If you are coming to this area of the river via Seoul Subway you can use
Line 2 City Hall Station. Exit 4 , Line 1 Jonggak Stn. Exit 4/5, or Line 5 Gwanghwamun Stn. Exit 5
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depending on the crowds they may have a specific entrance and path/direction marked off for you to follow. It can get insanely crowded some nights, weekends had lines around the block to get in so I highly recommend you come Monday-Wed to miss the mobs of people. We found it extremely quiet the first few days after the festival began and almost empty, but when we returned on a weekend 2 weeks in the wait was almost 2 hours to get in~ yikes! So crowds are avoidable if you time it right!
This same location seems to be a popular city location for Christmas light shows and other exhibits throughout the year as well!