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Korea’s lantern lighting festival becomes UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Korea’s lantern lighting festival becomes UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Korea's lantern lighting festival becomes UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Written by Harry S. Johnson

YeonDeungHoe, a Korean traditional cultural festival in which participants light up lanterns to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday, has become a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of Humanity.

At the 15th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held online on 16th, December at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, YeonDeungHoe was confirmed to be listed as an intangible cultural heritage of Humanity.

The Festival is an annual event held to mark the birth of Buddha, who pursued a wise life to make a better world. People light the lanterns while making their wishes during the event. ‘YeonDeung’ literally means ‘lighting a lantern,’ which can be interpreted as lighting up the heart and the world, wishing for wisdom, mercy, happiness, and peace.

The tradition dates back to 866, with the first historic records depicting the ancient Kingdom of Silla (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) telling stories of holding the event at Hwangnyongsa Temple in  Gyeongju. Since then, it has been a representative Korean traditional culture with 1,200 years of sharing all the joys and sorrows with the Korean people through the Unified Silla, Goryeo, and Joseon Dynasties.

The Festival has been transformed from the GwandeungNori, where participants enjoy the magnificent views of the lighted lanterns, to the current Lantern Parade where people make a parade throughout the Jongno Street, holding the lanterns made by themselves. YeonDeungHoe has been passed down creatively to follow the trend of the times while maintaining its tradition. It is a Korean cultural event that anyone can participate in voluntarily, and a festival that everyone can enjoy together, wishing each other happiness.

The Committee took note of the inclusiveness of YeonDeungHoe, which contributes to overcoming all social boundaries and to ultimately expressing cultural diversity. The Committee also noted that the lantern lighting festival plays the role of sharing pleasure and, in times of difficulties, of enhancing social cohesion. Most importantly, the Committee celebrated YeonDeungHoe as a good example of how a single inscription can contribute to enhancing the public awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage in general.

To commemorate the listing of the Festival as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, the YeonDeungHoe Preservation Committee will host the Special Exhibition and prepare for the 2021 YeonDeungHoe. Festival participants hope that COVID-19 will end as early as possible so that they can enjoy the Festival altogether.