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Holidays 101

Vesak: It’s Buddha’s birthday

Published on March 28, 2023 | Last Updated April 17, 2023
A close-up of a gold Buddha statue with bright red, blue and yellow lights behind.
(Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP via Getty Images)

Vesak (say "VEE-sak") is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar. It’s a holiday that celebrates the birth of Buddha. He's the person who began the religion known as Buddhism.

The day is also known as Wesak, Buddha Day or Buddha Burmina. It’s celebrated on the day of the full moon which usually falls between April to June. It lands on different days depending on where you live in the world.

How is it celebrated?

Candles, lemons and flowers are placed below a statue of a golden Buddha.

Buddhist monks place flowers at the Borobudur temple in Indonesia during Vesak celebrations. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

People prepare for the holiday by cleaning and decorating their homes. The day Vesak arrives, Buddhists visit their temples and bring offerings of food, candles and flowers to the monks.

The monks chant, pray and teach lessons to everyone in attendance.

Devotees pour water over Buddha statues.

(Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

A special ceremony called “bathing the Buddha” takes place on Vesak. During this ritual, people pour water over a statue of Buddha. It’s a way to show respect to Buddha for his teachings. It’s also a celebration of new beginnings.

Are there any other special traditions?

A red envelope containing money is being given to a monk holding a silver bowl.

(Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

The holiday of Vesak focuses on giving to others. For this reason, people take part in acts of charity. To help others, they donate money and gifts to those in need. This is seen as a way to spread happiness and good will to others.

Do celebrations vary from country to country?

Candles in paper lanterns are released in the night sky.

Lanterns float in front of the Borobudur temple during celebrations for Vesak Day in Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Depending on the country, there are a number of different traditions for Vesak.

In Thailand and Indonesia, special lanterns are made from paper and wood. Then they’re hung from houses and trees.

Some countries release caged birds into the air. They symbolize that all creatures should be free and happy.

What else should I know about Buddha?

A side profile of Buddha statue with monks dressed in orange robes are praying in the background.

Buddhist monks offer prayers during Vesak in Bangalore, India. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)

Buddha was born in the 6th-4th century BC and was the son of an Indian king. He was originally named Siddhartha Gautama. He lived a privileged life inside the walls of his family’s palace.

After growing up and having a family of his own, he decided to venture out beyond his palace walls. Along the way he saw people suffering from old age, sickness and death. This affected him so much that he decided to leave his life of comfort to become a holy man.

Siddhartha wandered around ancient India for six years. He spent his time meditating and trying to find true happiness. His main goal in life was to find a way to end human suffering.

One day while meditating under a fig tree, Siddhartha woke up filled with complete joy. This is when he became known as Buddha, which means Enlightened One. He began to teach about compassion and peace.

And his teachings became the foundation of Buddhism. 

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