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Feast Days and Celebrations

In predominantly Christian societies, holidays such as Easter and Christmas help to structure the course of the year. They are celebrated around the same time every year. Likewise, the ceremonies and traditions associated with these special days follow a recurring pattern. 

At Christmas people celebrate the birth of Christ, thus marking the beginning of Christianity. Other important stages of his life such as his death, resurrection, and ascent to heaven are commemorated in the same way each year. 

Christian saints, too, have their specific feast days, but these tend to vary from country to country.

Buddhism, too, has regularly occurring feast days and celebrations.

In this story, you will hear about important feast days, celebrations, and state rituals in predominantly Buddhist countries.

Temple on Vesak day, Borobodur, Indonesia, 2015

Buddhist feast days follow the lunar calendar. A full moon is granted special significance.

The most important Buddhist feast day is Vesak. On this occasion Buddhists around the world celebrate the birth of the Buddha as well as his awakening and his entry into parinirvana.

This feast day is observed by all schools of Buddhism and is celebrated on the day of the first full moon in May.

Ritual cleansing of Buddha statues in Indonesia, Indonesia

On Vesak day, people make offerings of flowers and candles in temples. They ritually cleanse the Buddha statues, join in processions, meditate, and recite religious texts together. Monks provide religious instruction. This multitude of simultaneous activities is a hallmark of many Buddhist festivals.

On feast days, people tend to donate more generously to monasteries and temples. They are also more likely to observe customs that monks and nuns abide by, such as going without food after midday.

Prince Siddhartha’s Wedding

Major Religious Life Events

The birth of a child or a marriage is not a major religious event for Buddhists in Asia. From a religious perspective, an ordination – admission to a Buddhist order as a monk or nun – is far more important.

At a Buddhist wedding, monks are present to bless the couple. But the festivity is more of a social than a religious event.

Depending on the tradition and country, even non-Buddhists may be wed in a Buddhist ceremony, as religious affiliation is usually of no great concern.

Ordination of a young man as a monk, Wat Yannawa Temple, Bangkok, Thailand


The ordination of a monk or a nun involves time-honored customs and procedures and is believed to bring good fortune to the whole family.  

In Thailand, for instance, it is a public event. The candidate’s head and eyebrows are shaved and he or she puts on a robe, the only garment they are permitted to wear for the duration of their monastic life.

Ordination of a young man as a monk, Wat Yannawa Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

In Thailand, a person is usually ordained for a certain length of time.

Young men from the age of twenty, in particular, can become ordained for a few years, months, or even days. The ordination is much like a rite of passage when one comes of age.

Once ordained, the men no longer live with their families but with the other monks in a monastery.

In all Buddhist schools, admission to a monastery is allowed only once in a lifetime. You may leave at any time, but re-admission is out of the question.

Vijaya Stupa


According to Buddhist understanding, death is not the end of existence, but merely a preparation for the next rebirth. That is why most funerary rituals focus on guiding the deceased to a pleasant, new form of existence.

In Buddhist countries across Asia, the most common form of funeral is cremation. Most Buddhist temples are equipped with such a facility, and monks and nuns conduct the service.

The ashes are then scattered in a river or placed in an urn and buried in a temple wall.

Sky burial site, Yushu, Tibet

Sky Burials in Tibet

In Tibet, the traditional funeral practice is the sky burial.

This means that the body is dismembered into small parts; these are then taken to a mountain and left for the vultures to feed on.

This is considered an act of generosity in the sense that the human remains are returned to the cycle of nature.

State Oracle Garment

State Rituals

In predominantly Buddhist countries, some rituals are carried out at the state level.

For instance, the Tibetans consult an oracle before making important political decisions, a practice that began in the 17th century.

Until the current Dalai Lama went into exile in 1959, the role of the oracle was played by the young man serving as abbot at the Nechung monastery near Lhasa in Tibet.

State Oracle Garment

Today, the seat of the oracle is in Dharamsala, India, which is also the base of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The man who serves as oracle is highly regarded in the community. According to Tibetan belief, he is possessed by Pehar – the mighty guardian spirit who protects Tibet and Buddhism as a whole – but only on those special days when the Dalai Lama seeks the deity’s advice.

A monk once asked Tozan: What is Buddha?

Tozan replied: Three pounds of flax.

Well done

Feast Days and Celebrations

Feast Days and Celebrations