Commonly called ‘Buddha’s Birthday’, Vesak is actually the celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha and, unlike the birth and death of Christ, is celebrated as one occasion.
Buddhism is one of Southeast Asia’s major religions, second to Islam which is predominant in Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. As such, major Buddhist holidays like Vesak, is widely celebrated in various Southeast Asian countries.
The dates of celebration however differ from country to country depending on what calendar that particular country uses (traditional, lunar or luni-solar). Buddha himself left instruction on how this day should be commemorated, and the highlights of this celebration are in keeping with his instruction, although minor variations can be seen from one country to another. For Buddha, paying homage to him and to his teachings does not just end in almsgiving, burning incense and chanting prayers, but in living noble and introspective lives that are filled with loving kindness and peace.
Thailand a predominantly Buddhist country (with 90% of the population as adherents of the faith), Thailand considers Visakah Puja or Wisakha Bucha, a public holiday. Buddhists give alms to monks, normally in the morning, and prepare for light-waving ceremonies at night. In between, the relics of Buddha are taken out of their shrines for a special bath and public veneration, and the faithful gather at the temples to make merits and offer flowers. Monks chant sacred hymns in Buddhist temples, and some even join the celebrations at Borobudur (in Java, Indonesia). The Royal Family usually attends ceremonies in various Thai provinces, while the rest of the Buddhist faithful offer food to the monks or attend Dharma lectures and view Buddhist exhibits in the cities. Lanterns made of paper and wood are released along with caged birds as a symbol of giving freedom to those who have been held against their will, and on a more personal level, to release oneself of past sins. Visakah Puja falls on May 24 in 2013.