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Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Vesak (Wesak): May 13 (date varies)

Celebrating-Vesak/ zaizaikorn - Fotolia.com

Vesak (also known as Wesak) commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death with a colorful, fun festival. Casually the holiday is often referred to as the “Buddha’s birthday.” The exact date of Vesak changes according to the varying lunar calendars used in different traditions. It is primarily celebrated within Theravada Buddhism (practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, etc.) and even within those countries there are variations. In May, Vesak is celebrated in some countries on the 13th and in other places as late as the 21st. Generally, it falls on the full moon of the fourth lunar month.

In preparation for Vesak, people clean and decorate their homes. On Vesak Day, Buddhists gather at their local temple for prayer, chanting and teaching. The temple is often decorated with colorful Buddhist flags and lights. People give offerings to the monks like flowers, candles and food. Often, devout Buddhists will dress in white and spend the day at temple with renewed determination to observe Buddhism’s Eight Precepts. One common ritual is the “Bathing the Buddha” ceremony where people pour water over the shoulders of the Buddha, which serves as a reminder to purify the mind from evils like greed and ignorance. In addition to bathing the Buddha, Buddhists also offer gifts—like flowers, fruits and other offerings—at the altar of the Buddha to show him respect and gratitude.

Buddhists must not kill any animals on this day and therefore all foods are vegetarian. Celebrations for Vesak vary by country. One popular tradition in some countries, like Thailand and Sri Lanka, is releasing caged birds as a symbol of releasing inner troubles and liberating those who are in captivity or imprisoned. In Sri Lanka, the celebration lasts for two days and all liquor stores and slaughter houses are closed during that time.

© 2011 – 2013, The Editors. All rights reserved.

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