Buddhism is a religion and philosophical tradition followed by millions of people across the globe. Originating in the Indian subcontinent, it is now shared across a rich variety of cultures throughout different lands. As such, holidays fall on varying dates in different places. This guide will give a succinct but comprehensive overview of the major holidays in key countries, as well as some of the minor holidays and observances.
Below is our Buddhist holy days 2023 calendar which includes Buddhist observances, Buddhist religious holidays and Buddhist festivals.
New Year’s Celebrations in Buddhist Cultures
The New Year is celebrated differently among different Buddhist communities, but to many, it is a sacred time. Celebrants often ritualistically clean and sweep their homes, energetically renewing the space. Like other cultures that follow the lunar calendar, many Buddhist traditions recognize the new year during the spring. Some Buddhist cultures observe the New Year in January, similar to western cultures. Japan is a notable example; New Year’s is observed 1st of January ever since the Japanese calendar was westernized in 1868.
Vesak (a.k.a. Wesak, Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Day, or Buddha’s Birthday) is the most sacred day to Buddhists around the world. The holiday commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha. Traditions include the ritual cleansing of the Buddha, eating vegetarian food, meditation, and observing the Eight Precepts.
Vesak falls on different dates in different regions, often based on varying lunisolar calendars, usually on or around the full moon. It always occurs during the Buddhist / Hindu month of Vaisakha, which roughly corresponds to April to May in the Gregorian calendar.
Mahayana Buddhism and some other cultures celebrate just the birth of the Buddha during Vesak. They observe his enlightenment and death separately, as Bodhi Day and Pariniravana Day, respectively.
January 1-3 – Shōgatsu (Japanese New Year)
The Japanese New Year, Shōgatsu, is one of the most important holidays in Japan. It runs for 3 days and involves sacred rituals and specially prepared meals. Temples ring their bells 108 times, a sacred Buddhist number.
February 8th or 15th – Parinirvana Day
Parinirvana Day (a.k.a. Niravana Day, Nibbāna Day) is a holiday in Mahayana Buddhism that commemorates the death of the Buddha. It is observed throughout East Asia, the Philippines and Vietnam, with differing dates.
February 16 – Māgha Pūjā / Sangha Day
One of the most important Buddhist festivals, celebrating a gathering of monks. Many spiritual and social practices are observed throughout many Southeast Asian countries.
January 18th – Mahayana Buddhist New Year
March 3–5 – Losar (Tibetan New Year)
The Tibetan New Year, known as Losar, is celebrated during several days around the end of winter. Losar often occurs close to the Chinese New Year, but the traditions are distinctly Tibetan and predate Chinese influence. Losar is a jubilant festival involving prayer flags and wheels, singing, dancing, meals and gifts.
April 13-15 – Songkran (Thai New Year)
The Thai New Year, Songkran, is an exuberant festival noteworthy for ritualistic “water fights” that symbolizes washing away misdeeds, and ceremonies such as cleansing Buddha statues with water.
In addition to this list of Buddhist holy days, you can also explore our 2023 Interfaith Calendar which includes religious holidays and religious festivals.
April 16 – Theravada Buddhist New Year
May 8 – Vesak (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines)
May 15/16 – Vesak (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore)
June 14/15 – Parinirvana Day (Bhutan)
July 13 – Asalha Puja / Dharma Day
Asalha Puja (a.k.a. Asadha Puja, Asanha Bucha, Dhamma Day, Dharma Day) is one of the most important holidays in Theravada Buddhism. It commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon. Celebrations usually occur in Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia, as well as other areas with Theravada Buddhist culture. Asalha Puja’s date varies by year, as it is tied to the full moon in the month of Ashadha. Related celebrations of Guru Purnima occur on this day as well.
August 12 – Ghost Festival / Ullambana / Bon
A holiday honoring ancestors, with particular focus on filial piety. In Japan, the holiday is known as Bon. In Chinese culture, this holiday is known as Ghost Day (Yulanpen in Buddhism, and Zhongyuan in Taoism).
October 9 – Kathina
A festival in Theravada Buddhism that commemorates the end of the rainy season. A related holiday, Pavarana, is celebrated in some cultures around the same time (Oct 10th this year).
December 8 – Bodhi Day / Rōhatsu / Laba
In Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhi Day specifically commemorates the enlightenment (Nibbāna) of the Buddha. In Japanese Zen, the holiday is known as Rōhatsu. In China, the holiday is known as the Laba Festival.
Other Holidays & Observances
March 21 – Celebration of the Birthday of Guan Yin / Kuan Yin ; Birthday of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara
July 6 – Celebration of the Birthday of the Dalai Lama (Tibet)
Tibetan Buddhists celebrate the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama, considered a living bodhisattva, often observing spiritual practices and festivals of Tibetan culture.
November 9 – Loy Krathong / Loi Krathong (Thailand)
A Thai festival occurring on the night of the full moon in the 12th month of the Thai calendar. Rituals involve setting a small vessel made of leaves afloat on a river.
November 15 – Lhabab Düchen (Tibet, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos)
A celebration of the Buddha’s return to earth to share his teachings.
For all 2023 religious holidays, see our interactive DEI Calendar for all 200+ religious events.
For more diversity topics, see our Diversity Calendar 2023.