Lantern Festival Time in Jinju
At the beginning of October, Jinju, my Korean home was at its best and brightest. Jinju held its annual Lantern Festival from October 1st to the 13th. The festival is held along the Nam River, and around JinjuSeong, or Jinju Fortress, in the center of town.
The festival is a long held tradition in Jinju and it’s arguably the largest event of the year for the city. Thousands upon thousands of people crowd the streets to see the lanterns, especially at night when they’re all lit up.
The lanterns are made of a gray, silk-like material, stretched over thick wire frames and then painted. The lanterns are sometimes characters from Korean folklore, famous places around the world, movie characters, and some are shaped like pomegranates, which the city is famous for. Some lanterns, like the pomegranates, are small; only a few feet high, while others are huge. There was one shaped like a dragon that was at least four meters long, and it breathed fire.
During my first year here, the Lantern Festival seemed like a late welcoming present from the city.
Last year, when I was young and ambitious, I used to run by the river in the morning and watch the workers put together the lanterns day by day. Now I sleep in and wait for them to be set afloat on the river.
The festival’s focus is obviously the lanterns, but there are plenty of stalls along the river and fortresses selling food and trinkets. They have musical acts, photo op lanterns, and even corn dogs. If you took a quick look, you’d almost think it was a county fair in the States… until you saw all the dried squid for sale. As if that isn’t enough, the Korean Drama Festival is also on at the same time just a little further down the river.
Lantern Festival Time in Jinju
During my first year here, the Lantern Festival seemed like a late welcoming present from the city. I had been here a month and already I was seeing Jinju at its most festive. I took tons of pictures, I tried new Korean food, and a couple of my Korean co-teachers showed me around and took me to see the fireworks. My coworkers and I saw a parade in town during our lunch break and a cameraman even came over to film us for a bit. I was content to enjoy the festival that one time, not knowing that I’d stay for another year.
This year, my friends and I were even more excited for the festival to begin. For one thing, the cameraman’s footage of my coworkers and I watching the parade from the year before ended up in the city’s commercial for the festival that they played every night on a big screen at a large intersection by my apartment. I like to tell myself I’m pretty much a celebrity in Korea now.
A middle aged Korean man stopped for a second when he saw us and said in Korean, “Wow, foreigners even know about this place?”
I was also excited for the kebabs, a delicacy that can be found in large Korean cities like Daegu, Busan, and Seoul, but not Jinju. I was ready to throw tons of money at the kebab stands once they were up. Also, of course, I was excited to see the lanterns again. It was nice to see which ones returned and how they set up the arrangements.
On the first night of the festival, my friend and I bought makgeolli (an alcoholic beverage made with rice) from a small restaurant by our apartment to bring along to the festival. A middle aged Korean man stopped for a second when he saw us and said in Korean, “Wow, foreigners even know about this place?” My friend and I laughed, bought our makgeolli, and made our way to the festival.
This year, instead of wandering aimlessly, we went straight for our favorite lanterns and food tents. We were veterans now; there was no time to mess around. With kebabs and alcohol in hand we perched by a rock and looked out at the river, the fortress and all the lanterns.
Over the next two weeks, my friend and I went to the festival almost every day to eat and to talk to the workers at the translation tents who we had befriended at the beginning of the festival. Despite the crowds, and the unpredictable weather, I had a great time every night. It was nice to be able to see the festival one last time before I head off on another adventure next fall. I may not have taken as many pictures this time, but I think the memories from this year and the pictures from last will suffice.