The day of Vesak is the official holiday that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. This event is celebrated on the first day of the full moon during May or June according to Asian lunisolar calendars and is called the sacred month of Vaisakha.
Vesak day is a global observance and a public holiday in many South and East Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, among many others. Even the United Nations celebrates it with Buddhist organizations and communities as a holiday.
So, who is Buddha? Siddhartha Gautama lived in India and Nepal during the sixth and fourth century BCE. He obtained the enlightenment following 49 days of meditation under the pipal tree, and became known to his followers as The Buddha. Buddhist theory holds that existence is fluid, ever-changing and that the “three poisons” of hatred, greed, and delusion are the roots of violence and unhappiness in the world. It teaches that enlightenment can be achieved when our lives are no longer dominated by such poisons.
On Vesak, Buddhist observers congregate in temples before dawn to raise the Buddhist flag and sing a hymn of praise for the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings on mindfulness and meditation) and the Sangha (his disciples). Temples are adorned with candles, joss-sticks, and flowers to symbolize the cycle of life from birth to decay. Followers are encouraged to practice vegetarianism and to avoid any sort of killing during this special day. At the same time, some countries free thousands of animals to symbolize liberation of those suffering from imprisonment. It is also common for groups to organize acts of kindness and charity by donating food and gifts to the poor. Once the sun has gone down, colorful lanterns are released into the night sky. Buddhism encourages a universal spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood to achieve a culture of non-violence and human rights. In 2019, Vesak will be observed on Sunday, May 19th.
Evening Standard. 2018. Vesak Day 2018: What is the holiday known as Buddha Day and how is it celebrated? www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/happy-vesak-day-2018-what-is-the-holiday-known-as-buddha-day-and-how-is-it-celebrated-a3850401.html
Cere, Daniel. “RELG370: Buddhism and Human Rights.” Religion and Human Rights, 2018, Mcgill University, Lecture.
Time and Date AS. 2018. Day of Vesak. www.timeanddate.com/holidays/un/vesak-day