If you are new to the path you may be pleasantly surprised that Buddhists often participate in festivals and holidays which honor key events in the life of the Buddha. These special days may also honor important events in the lives of an array of Bodhisattvas.
Dates for these Buddhist events vary based on tradition and country. It’s interesting to note that the dates do follow the lunar calendar.
Festival days are usually joyful events for participants and they tend to start with visits to local temples. At the temples, food or other offerings are given to Buddhist monks. As well, participants usually listen to talks about Dharma.
In the afternoon, Buddhists might give out food to the needy, with a mind to gaining merit. They might also walk around their temples a trio of times, to pay homage to the “three jewels” (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha), meditation and chanting.
The act of walking around the temple is called circumambulating.
Now, let’s look at ten events which have important spiritual significance.
The Buddhist New Year
The date of this sacred day may vary based on country. In Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka (these are the Theravedin nations), the Buddhist New Year starts on the initial full moon day in the month of April and continues for three days. In nations which are Mahayana, the Buddhist New Year typically begins on the initial full moon day in the month of January.
Most Tibetan Buddhists honor this sacred day during the month of March.
The Buddha Day (Vesak)
The Buddha Day is a sacred day which is also known as Vesak and it’s a special occasion which honors the date of birth of the Buddha. This festival is commonly considered to be the most important of all Buddhist festivals! Vesak (The Buddha Day) begins on the initial full moon day of the month of May. Buddhists all over the globe honor the birth of the Buddha, as well as his enlightenment and passing, over the course of just one day.
The word, Vesak, is an Indian word for the Indian month in which the festival is held.
Fourfold Assembly Day (Sangha Day)
This meaningful Buddhist holiday may also be known as Magha Puja Day. This special day honors a special event, which was Buddha’s visit to an Indian monastery in Rakagaha. The name of the monastery was Veruvana Monastery. According to Buddhist history, twelve hundred and fifty “perfect persons” (arhats) returned from their journeys on the day that the Buddha visited the monastery.
Fourfold Assembly Day is held on the initial full moon day of the month of March.
Asalha Puja Day (Dhamma Day)
This Buddhist holiday is known as Asalha Puja Day or Dhamma Day. It recognizes the very first sermon that the Buddha gave, which was called, “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma”. This sermon was delivered at a location known as Sarnath Deer Park. If you wish to celebrate this Buddhist holiday, you may do so when the moon is full in the month of July.
Uposatha (Observance Day)
This special day is called Uposatha or Observance Day. It signifies all of the group of four traditional holy days per month, which remain observed in nations which are Theravada. Theravada is a branch of Buddhism. The four holy days happen on new moon, quarter moon and full moon days. Sri Lankans call Upsatha by another name (Poya Day).
Robe Offering Ceremony (Kathina Ceremony)
The Robe Offering Ceremony (also known as Kathina Ceremony) may be held on any date which convenient, as long as the date falls within a single month of the end of the Vassa season (monthly rains retreat season). During this day, non-monastics, who are also called the laity, offer brand-new robes and a range of other necessary items to nuns and monks.
Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls)
When the Kathin Festival period concludes, and the canals and rivers are filled with water, this Buddhist festival is held throughout Thailand, on the evening o the full moon, during the 12th lunar month. During the festival, people offer bowls crafted from leaves, which are filled with incense sticks, blossoms and candles, and then float the bowls upon the waters. When they do, bad luck is supposed to depart.
Originally, the practice of floating bowls was done in order to pay respect to the Buddha’s holy footprint, which was found on a beach near India’s Namada River.
The Elephant Festival
The Buddha utilized a story about a wild elephant who was harnessed to a tame elephant in order to show people that new Buddhists should be assisted by older ones. To honor the meaning of this story and the Buddha’s views on helping others who are interested in Buddhism, an Elephant Festival is held on the 3rd Saturday of the month of November.
The Festival of the Tooth
There is a large temple in Sri Lanka which is found on a compact hill. It was constructed in order to become the resting place of the Buddha’s tooth. The relic cannot be viewed. It’s stored deep within a series of caskets. Every year, in the month of August, when the moon is full, a procession honors the tooth and its spiritual significance.
Ulambana (Ancestor Day)
In nations which are Mayahana, Buddhists believe that hell’s gates open up on the first day of the 8th lunar month (September or October, depending on the lunar year). It’s believed that the opened gates of hell allow spirits (ghosts) to visit earth for fifteen days.
During Ancestor Day, offerings of food are made which are given in order to ease the sufferings of these wandering spirits. On the 15th day of Ulambana, people go to cemeteries and give offerings to their ancestors who have passed away. A lot of Theravadins in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos observe Ancestor Day.