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Buddha’s Birthday: A Celebration of Enlightenment Across Different Dates

Millions of Buddhists worldwide celebrate Siddharta Gautama’s birth roughly 2586 years ago. This year, Buddha’s Birthday falls on March 23, or April 8, or May 15, or May 23. Why so many dates?

Illustration of Buddha sitting on the ground in a lotus position with a big cake in front of him.
Illustration of Buddha sitting on the ground in a lotus position with a big cake in front of him.

How the Buddha holds his hands is significant: This gesture is called the "Vitarka Mudra," and stands for the communication of Buddhist teachings.

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More than 2500 years ago, a prince was born: Siddharta Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Siddharta became a famous spiritual teacher, founding one of the world’s largest religions.

Whether you define Buddhism as a religion or more as a philosophy of life, Buddhists definitely celebrate the birth of their first teacher; they just can’t agree on a date.

When Is Buddha’s Birthday 2024?

This year, Buddhists celebrate mostly in May: May 15, 2024, is the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunisolar calendar, while May 23, 2024, is the first Full Moon of May. These dates are used by most Buddhists. You can see a list of holidays from our database below:

DateCountryHoliday Type
23 March 2024 PakistanOptional Holiday
15 May 2024 Hong KongNational Holiday
South KoreaNational Holiday
MacauNational Holiday
22 May 2024 MalaysiaNational Holiday
SingaporeNational Holiday
ThailandNational Holiday
23 May 2024 BangladeshNational Holiday
BhutanNational Holiday
IndonesiaNational Holiday
IndiaNational Holiday
Sri LankaNational Holiday
MongoliaNational Holiday
NepalNational Holiday
United StatesUnited Nations Observance

Why So Many Different Dates?

The date of Buddha’s Birthday varies widely due to the different lunar calendars used across various countries. Here are some examples:

  • Many countries in Southeast Asia follow the Buddhist calendar: Buddha’s Birthday falls on the Full Moon day of the month of Vaisakha, lending its name to the holiday as “Vesak,” “Wesak,” or “Waisak.”
  • Countries following the Chinese lunar calendar celebrate Buddha’s Birthday on the eighth day of the fourth month.
  • The Tibetan calendar calculates Buddha’s Birthday one day earlier, falling on the seventh day of the fourth month.
  • Japan and Taiwan follow the Gregorian calendar for their Buddha days: Japan celebrates on April 8, and Taiwan uses the second Sunday in May.

Vesak, Jayanti, Purnima: Names for Buddha’s Birthday

Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated under many different names. The literal translation is Buddha Jayanti, the Sanskrit “jayanti” meaning “birthday.” Since Buddhist celebrations are often on a Full Moon, the day is also called Buddha Purnima (or Pournima) from the Sanskrit “purnima," meaning “Full Moon.”

Another common approach is to name the festival after the month it occurs. Thus, many countries don’t refer to Buddha himself but to the month of Vaisakha, leading to the name Vesak (also spelled Wesak, Waisak) or Visakha Bucha.

When and Where Was The Buddha Born?

According to Buddhist tradition, Prince Siddharta Gautama was born at Lumbini in Nepal on April 8, 563 BCE. His mother, Queen Maya, had stopped at a beautiful flower garden on her way home when she gave birth to a boy. He was named Siddharta, which translates to “the accomplished goal.”

The year 563 BCE isn’t certain. It is but one of several possibilities—multiple traditions claim slightly different birth years, all falling around the end of the 4th century BCE.

Traditions: Bathing the Buddha

The dates aren’t the only differences between Buddhists worldwide. Traditions can also change, and rituals can be performed differently. However, there is at least one very common tradition: Buddha’s birthday bath.

A little statue of the Buddha is “bathed” with water or sweetened tea, for example. People use ladles to pour water over the Buddha, to clean him, and to purify themselves. It is a metaphor for change and renewal and reminds us of the pure nature underneath everything piled up on top. Once the unnecessary defilements are washed away, we can truly shine.

Happy Birthday, Buddha!