Vesak celebrates Buddha’s birth, along with his enlightenment and death in some traditions. The holiday has been officially celebrated since 1950, when the World Fellowship of Buddhists formalized it as Buddha’s birthday.
Buddhism is practiced by around 500 million people across the globe, in dozens of countries. Vesak is a holiday common to all Buddhists, but is celebrated differently according to local customs. Because Vesak is based on the Asian lunisolar calendar, the day usually falls on the full moon in the Gregorian month of May, but this varies widely according to each country’s traditions.
How to Observe Vesak
Learn about international traditions
The Japanese pour amacha, a sweet tea made from hydrangea flowers, over statues. Sri Lankans hang colorful lanterns in front of homes and along the streets. Indonesian Buddhist monks join in repeating mantras and meditating together as they circle around their temples.
Prepare (or just enjoy) a vegetarian meal
In some countries, one Vesak ritual is the release of thousands of birds, insects, and animals to symbolize giving freedom to those in captivity. If you are a meat lover, perhaps you could try eating like a vegetarian just for the day, to raise your own awareness of the precious nature of all life.
Celebrate even if you’re not a Buddhist
Because the essence of observing Vesak lies in the celebration of life, just think of something that feels life-affirming to you. This might be simply taking a long walk and observing all the beauty of nature around you, singing, cooking — anything that invites you to be fully present during that experience, when your senses are heightened, and you experience the joy of being alive. Then share that joy with someone else.
Why Vesak is Important
Buddhists all over the world commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Gautama Buddha.
Vesak reminds us to make others happy
During Vesak many practitioners make special efforts to bring happiness to the elderly, disabled, and those suffering from illness, but it is also a time to give oneself happiness by creating beauty through artistic endeavors.
It is above all a celebration of life
The gifts of flowers, candles, and joss sticks that Buddhists offer on Vesak are symbolic of the temporary nature of life, and also a reminder to honor all living creatures, so vegetarian foods are encouraged during this celebration.