Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea // The Complete Guide

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea – Everything you need to know

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea

What do people do during Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea? In this article we’ll reveal all.

Korea commemorates Buddha’s birthday or 석가탄신일 [seokga tansinil] in Korean as a national holiday.

This holiday is celebrated on the lunar calendar, so its date is different each year. Most of the time it’s held in May.

It is one of the most important religious events in the Lunar calendar.

In this article, you’ll find how people celebrate Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea, as well as the history of this holiday and a useful vocabulary list to learn the most important words.

First though, here are the key dates up to 2025.

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea:

May 8th 2022

May 27th 2023

May 15th 2024

May 5th 2025

Want to know more about Korean holidays? Check out our dedicated page for all Korean national holidays.

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea | History

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea | Events for Buddha’s Birthday

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea | When is Buddha’s Birthday?

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea | A Complete Vocab List

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea | FAQ’s

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An Introduction to Public Holidays in South Korea

There are 11 public holidays in South Korea. Chuseok, Seollal, Children’s Day… Find out what these days are all about and celebrate with friends.

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Let’s now turn our focus back to the topic in hand and learn about Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea in more detail now!

History

History of Buddhism

After Christianity and Islam, Buddhism is probably the third largest religion in the world.

The founder of Buddhism is Buddha Siddharta Gautama.

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea - Buddhism

Prince of a small Indian kingdom, he lives in opulence due to his rank without having a contact with either the outside of the palace, or with poverty, misery, or death.

It is only after furtive outings that he realizes what misery is.

From then on, he undertook a quest to understand the origin of misery in order to eradicate it.

During his awakening, he realized that man causes his own suffering by undertaking and carrying out negative actions.

Afterward, he convinces many people to adhere to his philosophy, so that at his death, it already has many followers: Buddhism was born.

The Buddha died around 4803 BC. Shortly after the Buddha’s death, the first council of Buddhism was founded by his first disciples: Ananda, Upali and Mahakashyapa.

At that time, his precious teachings survived by word of mouth. It was not until the expansion of Buddhism in Sri Lanka that the Buddha’s precepts were put down in writing.

The arrival of Buddhism in South Korea

The word Buddhism in Korean is 불교 (bulgyo). Buddhism spread very rapidly from 372 to 668, during the so-called Three Kingdoms period.

From the very beginning, Korean Buddhism sort of “absorbed” the already well-established shamanism in the territory, integrating its three deities into its own pantheon.

Subsequently, Buddhism was strengthened by becoming the main religion during the Goryeo period (918-1392).

This period of prosperity allowed the writing of the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of sacred texts whose printing plates are now preserved in the Haeinsa temple near Daegu.

Many schools were created during the Silla period, and even more during the Unified Silla (668-935). Beautiful temples were built too!

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea - religion in South Korea
Here is a diagram of the distribution of different religions in South Korea

However, despite its strength, and probably because of the corruption of its elites, Korean Buddhism was strongly repressed under the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). The rulers of the time preferred to favour Confucianism.

Buddha’s birthday has been a public holiday in South Korea since 1975

Today, Buddhism is one of the major religions in South Korea, with around a quarter of the Korean population identifying with it.

As you can see on the diagram, if we don’t count the people who don’t practice any religion, almost a quarter of the Koreans are Buddhist.

Events for Buddha’s Birthday

Buddha’s Birthday is a public holiday (공휴일 gonghyuil), so Korean people have a day off to celebrate this day.

In Korea, most Buddha’s Birthday events are held during the week (sometimes the month) leading up to Buddha’s birthday, rather than on the day itself.

There are many things to do during Buddha’s Birthday, like visiting temples, eating free food and seeing lotus lanterns festival.

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Buddhist Temples in South Korea

Many Buddhist temples host events such as festivals, prayers, traditional games and celebrations, in which anyone is welcome to join.

Some temples also offer a “templestay”, meaning staying in a temple in Korea. You can spend the night there, or choose a few days retreat (kind of like an LTL Homestay)!

In any case, you will have to follow a pre-established program: follow the monastic life which imposes to get up early and to go to bed late, and to occupy your days with meditations and walks.

Now let’s give a quick presentation of 3 Buddhist temples in South Korea.

Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul [봉은사]
Buddha's Birthday - Bongeusa temple

Buried between the many modern buildings of Seoul, Bongeusa Temple is one of the quietest places there.

The construction of Bongeunsa Temple dates back to 794.

This year that corresponds to the reign of King Gyeonseongsa.

It is one of the birthplaces of Buddhism in South Korea.

Samgwangsa Temple in Busan [삼광사]
Buddha's Birthday - Samgwangsa Temple Busan

Samgwangsa Temple is a Buddhist temple located in Busan.

At this temple you can learn about Buddhist ways of worship and see the temples from inside.

The temple was established in 1986.

It is located on top of a hill and offers a panoramic view of Busan.

Tongdosa Temple near Ulsan [통도사]
Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea - Tongdosa TempleTemple

Tongdosa Temple is one of the five Korean temples of the “Nirvana Jewel Palace”, where the relics of Buddha replace a statue.

It is located on Yeongchuksan Mountain.

Tongdosa was founded by Precepts Master Jajang in 646.

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Lotus Lantern Festival

The highlight of Buddha’s Birthday is the Lotus Lantern Festival or 연등회 [Yeon Deung Hoe] in Korean.

It usually takes place on the weekend before Buddha’s Birthday. Koreans celebrate this event through a beautiful parade.

After the parade, thousands of wish lanterns are released into the sky. The festival ends with a parade to the front of the Jogyesa Temple in Seoul.

In 2020, the Lotus Lantern Festival was designated by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage.

If you go to South Korea during this period, it is an event not to be missed!

Here is a video that shows the Jogyesa Temple during the Lotus Lantern Festival. It’s so beautiful and coloured:

When is Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea?

Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated the eighth day of the fourth Lunar month of the Lunar Calendar.

Since the date of Buddha’s birthday celebration follows the Lunar Calendar, it changes every year.  

YearsDateDayHoliday
2022May 8thSundayBuddha’s Birthday
2023May 27thSaturdayBuddha’s Birthday
2024May 15thWednesdayBuddha’s Birthday
2025May 5thMondayBuddha’s Birthday
2026May 24thSundayBuddha’s Birthday

It is also good to note that Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on different days depending on the country that celebrates it.

A Complete Vocabulary List

EnglishKoreanTransliteration
Buddha’s Birthday석가탄신일seokga tansinil
Buddha 석가seokga
Birthday생일saeng-il
Buddhism불교bulgyo
South Korea한국hanguk 
Lunar Calendar음력eumlyeog
Public holiday공휴일gonghyuil
Templeshyang 
Lotus Lantern Festival연등회yeon deung hoe
Lantern연등yeondeung
Hanbok한복hanbok
Food음식eumsig
Bibimbap 비빔밥bibimbap 

That completes our guide to the Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea.

Hopefully this gives you a clearer idea of how people celebrate this important day.

Want to know more about Korean public holidays? How about checking out our introduction to public holidays in South Korea.

If you have attended this festival before, let us know about your experience in the comments!

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea – FAQ’s

How do you say ‘Buddha’s Birthday’ in Korean?

Buddha’s Birthday in Korean is 석가탄신일 (seokgatansinil) sometimes Koreans also say 부처님 오신 날 (bucheonim osin nal).

When is Buddha’s Birthday in 2022?

Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea falls on Sunday, May 8th.

What do Korean people do during Buddha’s Birthday?

Buddha’s Birthday is a public holiday (공휴일 gonghyuil), so Korean people have a day off to celebrate this day.

In Korea, most Buddha’s Birthday events are held in the week (sometimes the month) leading up to Buddha’s birthday, rather than on the day itself.

There are many things to do during Buddha’s Birthday, like visiting temples, eating free food and seeing lotus lanterns festival.

How do you say ‘Buddha’ in Korean?

The Korean word for Buddha is 석가 (seokga).  

How many other holidays does Korea have?

Koreans celebrate or observe 13 other holidays, of which 4 (Valentine’s Day, Daeborum, Chilseok, and New Year’s Eve) are significant.

When is Buddha’s Birthday in 2023?

In 2023, Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea falls on Saturday, May 27th.

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