Buddha’s Birthday: An East Asian Holiday

Buddha’s Birthday is being celebrated in Hong Kong May 12, 2019 – with the following Monday a public holiday (yeah!). Before moving to Hong Kong this was not a holiday I had experienced. I have since learned it is celebrated all over East Asia – where Buddhism has a big footprint – go figure? The holiday is also observed in some countries as Vesak – a festival celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death The Buhdda.

Buddha’s Birthday commemorates that birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the sage that eventually found enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi Tree. Born in Nepal in 563 BCE, Gautama was raised as a prince in a warrior clan. At age 29 he left his royal life behind in search of enlightenment. After following a number of paths Gautama found enlightenment after 49 days of meditation to become The Buhdda, or The Awakened One, at age 35. He would spend the next four decades traveling India with his growing flock of followers.

In Hong Kong, Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday. Lanterns are lit to symbolize the Buddha’s enlightenment and many people visit the temple to pay their respects. The bathing of the Buddha is a major feature of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in the city. The festival is also a public holiday in Macau.



In mainland China, Buddha’s birthday is not an official holiday and celebrated informally by Buddhists. Singapore, Malaysia, South (and sometimes North) Korea, Indonesia (Did you know Indonesia has the largest Buddhist Temple in the world?), Cambodia celebrate the day as a national holiday. More Buddhist-centric nations – including Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka have more elaborate multi-day celebrations related the Buddha’s birth.

In India, for example, Buddhists take part in a longer-than-usual Buddhist service, with a pure-white dress code. Sweet rice porridge is commonly served to commemorate the story of the recall the story of the maiden who offered the Buddha a bowl of milk porridge, that saved his life when he was starving.

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