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Information on
Buddhist Festivals

by Mandy Barrow

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image; budhistBuddhist festivals are joyful times. There are many different Buddhist festivals around the world. The most important ones celebrate events in the Buddha's life. Some festivals are special to a particular country. For example, Sri Lankans celebrate Poson Day. All Buddhists celebrate Wesak, or Buddah Day.

The Buddhist Calendar
Buddhists follow a lunar (moon) year. This means that every month begins when there is a new moon, so each month lasts 29 - 30 days. Each Buddhist year is about 10 days shorter than the Western year. The important days of the month for Buddhists are days when there is a full moon or a new moon.

What is the main Buddhist Festival?
The main Buddhist festival of the year is Buddha Day / Wesak / Vaisakha, the celebration of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. The festival is a celebration of much colour. Homes are decorated and lanterns are made of paper or wood. Buddhists also visit their local temples for services and teachings, and give offerings to monks.


Buddhist Festivals

Buddhist New Year January / February / March / April
Buddhist think about how to be kinder and more generous to people.


Magha Puja February (full moon Day)
The festival commemorates the occasion when 1250 enlightened personal disciples of the Buddha came spontaneously to the Bamboo grove on the full moon of Magha (our February).  The Buddha predicted his death and recited a summary of his teachings and a code of discipline which all monks are expected to recite every fortnight. 
The day is observed with meditation, chanting and listening to sermons.

Parinirvana February (full moon Day)
At this festival people remember the death of Buddha. When he was 81 years old, the Buddha knew that the time had come for him to die. He lay down and died peacefully.

In the temples the lights are lowered. People chant and meditate in the dimmed light. The lights are made bright again. The lights are a symbol. They show that the light of Buddha's teachings continues to shine in the world.


Losar February (Full Moon Day)
The most important Buddhist holiday in Tibet celebrating the Tibetan New Year. It begins at the full moon in February and lasts for 15 days.

Hanna Matsuri 8 April
A Japanese (Mahayana Buddhists) celebration of the Buddha's birthday. A flower festival where people take offerings of spring flowers to decorate shrines and statues of the Buddha when he was a baby. People pour scented tea over the statues. This remembers the Buddha's birth, when stories say two streams of perfume from the sky bathed him and his mother.

Songkran April
The festival of Songkran takes place in the month of April and lasts for three days. In Thailand, Songkran falls at the time of the New Year. People go to temples and give presents such as food and flowers to the monks.

Water is very important in the festival of Songkran. There are often water fights in the streets, and boat races are held on rivers. There is dancing and fireworks and people often watch shadow puppet plays.


Buddha Day / Wesak / Visakha Puja / Vaisakha May (full moon day)
An important festival because on this day the Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died. All three of these significant events fell on the same day.

In the UK and other Western countries, Wesak is often called Buddha Day. Buddhists go to a temple or monastery. They listen to a talk by the monks about Buddha's life and Enlightenment. They often repeat mantras and meditate. Many Buddhists give each other cards and presents.

In Thailand, the Wesak festival is called Vaisakha. People listen to monks giving talks about the life of Buddha. The shrines in the temples are beautifully decorated. A special part of the festival is at night, when the statue of Buddha is taken outside. People walk around it three times, carrying candles. They pour scented water over the statue.


Poson Day June (Full Moon Day)
On this day people remember Buddhism coming to Sri Lanka

Dharma Day July (Full moon day)
A celebration of the first time the Buddha gave his teachings, called Dharma. Dharma means 'truth'.

Kathina October / November (1 day)
Kathina is a Theravada Buddhist festival. It is most important in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma. It takes place at the end of the rainy season. People give new robes to monks and nuns.

Sangha Day November (Full Moon Day)
Sangha Day is a celebration of friendship. Buddhists come together to celebrate their worldwide community, the Sangha.

Parinirvana Day
This is a Mahayana Buddhist festival that marks the death of the Buddha.

Bodhi Day
Buddhists celebrate Gautama's attainment of Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India.


Calendar of Religious Festivals
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I teach computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.