Monday, February 7, 2011


   While most in the United States gets ready for Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, there are many different holidays associated with the Buddhist religion, which are especially observed in Southeast, Central and East Asian countries.  Each year, throughout the world, various celebrations and festivals are held, often using the lunar calendar for exact dates.  It is not uncommon to find differing dates and traditions in regards to different countries.

   Most of the holidays pertaining to the Buddhist culture often pay homage to the life of the Buddha, as well as various Bodhisattvas.  For those of you who don't know, a Bodhisattva is a future Buddha, who has put off their attainment of nirvana (no more suffering) on hold so that they may assist others in freeing themselves from a life full of distress.  It is the goal of those following Mahayana Buddhism to become a bodhisattva, in Sanskrit, the term stands for "one whose essence is wisdom".

   A typical day of celebration usually starts with paying a visit to the local temple.  This is when food offerings are made, as well as other items, which are given to the monks.  Then, followers will often listen and engage in a series of teachings, truths or religious conversation.  Afternoon celebrations include a variety of actions, such as giving food to the poor.  This is done in hopes of earning merit during this time of respect and observance.  Some followers will walk around the temple three times, which is significant in honoring the Three Jewels (or Gem).  The Three Jewels are the Buddha, who symbolizes attainable goals, the Dharma, which are the teachings that lead followers closer to their goals, and the Sangha, which represents monks and nuns.

   Chanting and meditation is also common during times of celebration.  Popular among monks and other followers, the Pali chant associated with the Triple Jewels, called the Vandana Ti-sarna, may be recited:
"Buddham Sharanam Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Budda)
"Dhammam Sharanm Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Dharma)
"Sangham Sharanam Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Sangha)

Important Buddhist Holidays, Ceremonies and Festivals include:

Buddhist New Year-The Buddhist New Year is observed on various days, depending on specific Buddhist sects, as well as where in the world you are located.  For example, if you are in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka or Thailand, the new year is celebrated three days following the first full moon within the month of April.  These countries follow the Theravadin Buddhist belief system, which represents the oldest surviving Buddhist philosophy.  Tibetan Buddhists usually celebrate the new year in March, whereas, Mayayana Buddhists observe the new year on the day of the first full moon in January.

Festival of Floating Bowls (Loy Krathong): This particular festival is observed in Thailand, when waters fill the local rivers and canals.  By the end of the Kathina Festival season, this observance can be enjoyed on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month.  Flowers, incense sticks and candles are placed in bowls made from leaves and brought to the canals and rivers to be set afloat.  It is said that all of your bad luck will escape you when following this tradition.  The history behind this practice can be traced to the commemoration of the holy footprint of the Buddha, which was found on the Namada River Beach in India.

Ancestor Day (Ulambana): For Buddhists residing in Mahayana countries, there is a belief that the gates of hell open on the first day of the 8th lunar month, allowing ghosts to wander about the world for a total of 15 days.  At this time, it is common to see Buddhists offer food to the ghosts, in hopes of easing their suffering.  When the 15th day is reached, Ulambana or Ancestor Day is observed.  This is when people visit cemeteries so that they may leave offerings for their ancestors.  This festival is also observed in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, where the Thereavadin belief system is followed.  Japanese Buddhists hold a similar holiday, which is also referred to as Obon.  This holiday starts on July 13th and is observed for 3 days, which is meant to recognize the time that ancestors are reunited with the living.

Vesak (Buddha Day): Serving as one of the most important festivals in Buddhist culture, Vesak is observed on the day of the first full moon in may.  This is when all Buddhists pay their respects to the birth, enlightenment, as well as death of the Buddha.

Dhamma Day (know as Asalha Puja Day): On the day of the full moon in July, Buddhists celebrate the Buddha's first sermon, which is often referred to as the "turning of the wheel of the Dharma".

Observance Day (Uposatha or in Sri Lanka, Poya Day): This particular holiday deals with the observance of the four traditional days, which involves Buddhists thriving in Theravada countries.  These holy days are celebrated on the new moon, full moon, as well as quarter moon days.

   Kathina Ceremony (Robe Offering Ceremony): Considered a floating holiday, this ceremony can be accomplished on any given day within one month of the end of the 3-month rains retreat season (also known as Vassa).  This is when non-clergy members present new robes and other items to the monks and nuns.


   Beat your feet around the globe and all year long to enjoy fanciful, colorful kites filling the near horizon while partaking of the other festivities these celebrations have to offer.  Many that are typical and others that are unique to the theme or locale, at whatever time of year kite enthusiasts gather to fly.


   Getting off to flying start we have the International Kite Festival held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.  This kite extravaganza, held on the 14th of the month, is timed to coincide with the change of seasons celebration, Uttarayan or Makar Sakranti, that marks the end of Winter and initiates with joy and jubilation, the return of Spring.
   It is a time of thanksgiving, the slumbering gods are awake and the portals of heaven are opened.  This is a time to celebrate and make merry with a multitude of bright sky-sprites lifted to the heavens from the millions of revelers crowding the rooftops.
    Making use of the "firkees" or rolls of string treated with glue and ground glass, the famous and sometimes dangerous kite fights begin.  An opportunity for complete strangers.  Kite makers and flyers drawn from around the globe for this annual kite holiday, and with the religious celebrants joining in, to make it a jubilant and vivacious festival.
   While in Gujarat, be sure to visit the renowned "Kite Museum of Ahmedabad", for a look at the kite, then and now.


   The 8th is kite flying day everywhere!
   In Pakistan the Vassant (or Bansant) Festival held in the Hindu month of Magh (January/February) was once a celebration of colors, lights and kites,  but the kites and even celebrating the return of Spring,  have been banned since 2005.
   The place to be for kite flying fun in February is the largest winter kite celebration in the Midwest, Color the Wind Kite Festival, held in the latter part of the month at Mcintosh Woods State Parke near Ventura, Iowa.


   You will need wings on your heels to beat your feet from Iowa to Austin, Texas in time for the Zilker Kite Festival held in the first week of March.
   Haulover Park Kite Festival held mid-month, brings out kite makers and flyers to the sunny Miami Beach, Florida skies.
   Then on to Washington D.C., to end the month by enjoying the annual Smithsonian Kite Festival.  Celebrated for over four decades, this truly international event.  In 2009 the festival had a "green" theme, honoring Mother Earth by celebrating with kites, made from renewable resources and powered by the wind.


   Closing out the month, is the Morro Bay Kite Festival.  To get the kite festival started on the right foot, the Sailinan Indians will perform a traditional "Blessing of the Wind" ceremony right after the parade.  Join the fleet of kites in the picturesque setting at the foot of Morro Rock.


   Japan's Hamamatsu Festival is held early in May and is the home of the "hatsudako", a birth celebration using kites to honor the child which is then followed by the sound of trumpets calling the sky-warrior to assemble for the kite battles.


   Rounding out June is the annual Summer Kite Festival in Lincoln City, Oregon.  Named by Kiteline Magazine as one of the best places to fly kites in North America.  Lincoln City honors that reputation with not one or two, but with three kite festivals each year, including an indoor kite celebration.

   Late July and the soothing surf of the Pacific Coast laps over your toes,  after hot-footing it to the Berkely Kite Festival held in Cesar F. Chavez Park at the Marina, on the San Francisco Bay.  The Bay Area Sports Kite League will be organizing the West Coast Kite Champoionships at the festivities.


   "Always in August", is the motto of the Washington State International Kite Festival.  Held in Long Beach, Washington.  The site of the only museum dedicated to kites, kite makers and kite fliers in the USA, the "World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame".  Voted the best kite festival in the world, be sure not to miss this event.


   The mid-month Family Day Kite Festival is held on the Marina Green, San Francisco's panoramic waterfront park.  Meet at the  Make-a-Kite pavilion and then you're ready for a day of kite flying and professional demonstrations.


   The second Sunday in October is always World Kite Day.
   "One Sky One World", has been flying kites around the planet, for peace in the community and the world, since 1986.  Join a local festival or start the first in your area.


   All Saints Day ( November 1st) is the annual Sacatepequez Kite Festival celebration day that is perhaps unique among kite holidays.  This festival held near Antigua, Guatemala, always takes place in the cemetery where everyone parties for the day.


   In the British Isles, the 13th is the day to get caught up with your kite flying before the Christmas holidays.  With the Great Ouse Kite Flyer's (GOKF) haveing a fly-in at Priory Par, Bedford, Bedforshire and the NKG staging two Xmas fly-ins for the same day: One overlooking the Mersey, Otterspool, South Liverpool, Merseyside and the other at Stainland Recreational Ground, Stainland, near Huddersfield and Halifax, Yorkshire.
   Then the GOKF are back to it on the 27th, with a fly-in at Meadows Country Park, Ham Lane, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
   This would be the place to give due recognition to the British kite flyer's.  They are dedicated enthusiasts that are officially active every month of the year except January.  This gives them an opportunity to visit the Gujarate Kite Festival in India.