석가탄신일 (Seokga tansinil), aka Buddha’s birthday

The eighth day of the fourth lunar month is a holiday in Korea–it’s 석가탄신일 (Seokga tansinil), or in English, Buddha’s birthday. In 2010, that lunar date falls corresponds with May 21 on the Gregorian calendar.

석가탄신일 (Seokga tansinil) means “the day of Buddha’s birthday.” The day is also called 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osin nal), meaning “the day when Buddha arrived.” In the past the day was celebrated mainly by Buddhists, but today many of the celebrations are part of mainstream Korean customs, such as the Lotus Lantern Festival that I featured last week.

Siddhartha Guatama, the man we know as Buddha, was a spiritual teacher from India who founded Buddhism. He is believed to have been born around 563 BC. The religion of Buddhism was introduced to Korea by travelers in the fourth century AD. Since that time Buddhism has influenced many aspects of Korean culture. Today about one-third of the population of South Korea practice Buddhism.

Before the eighth day of the fourth lunar month arrives temples and many households make lanterns. In a household, the number of lanterns made reflects the number of people in the household. Then on the evening of Buddha’s birthday, the lanterns are lit.

Many articles about the holiday note that temples throughout Korea provide free meals and tea to visitors on this day. And the meal is often sanchae bibimbap.

The Life in Korea web site has more information about the Seokga Tansinil festivities. You can find that article at this address: www.lifeinkorea.com/culture/festivals/festivals.cfm?Subject=Sawolchopail

And I found a recipe for sanchae, or mountain vegetable, bibimbap at the following address: http://chefinyou.com/2009/03/sanchae-bee-bim-bap-healthy-korean-main-course-coming-your-way/

I must admit that as Christians this isn’t a holiday we’ve incorporated into our celebrations. But as our son grows, I think it would be interesting to study more about Buddha and the impact that Buddhism has had on Korea. It would be fun to make lotus lanterns too. And I never need an excuse to eat bibimbap.

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