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AP PHOTOS: Lotus Lantern Festival draws thousands in Seoul to celebrate upcoming Buddha’s birthday

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Holding umbrellas and pink paper lotus flowers, thousands of South Koreans joyously filled the wet streets of Seoul in an annual festival anticipating Buddha’s birthday the coming week.

Despite the rain, organizers expected a turnout of around 50,000 people for Saturday’s Yeon Deung Hoe, or Lotus Lantern Festival, whose evening parade draws huge crowds out to see the featured floats, some carried and others rolled on wheels along the downtown area of the capital, Seoul.

The festival — which began more than 1,000 years ago and was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020 — aims to spread the enlightenment of the founder of Buddhism all over the world.

Thousands of people gathered Saturday at Seoul’s Dongguk University, the parade’s starting point, to head to the Jogyesa Temple where thousands of colorful lanterns were hung at the temple’s grounds, forming the sentence: “It’s peaceful just the way it is,” which could be seen from the air.

Dressed in raincoats, festival-goers walked through the streets with illuminated pink lotus lanterns and flowers. Others carried huge Buddhist-themed floats, including baby Buddhas and the Four Heavenly Kings — mythical deities protecting the faithful from evil. Some floats featured tigers, elephants and a huge dragon. There were also cartoon characters, including Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy.

Buddha’s birthday, celebrated on Wednesday, is a national holiday in South Korea. On that day, many temples provide free meals and tea to visitors. Festivities in temple yards and parks include traditional games and various art performances.