Each year on December 8th, Buddhists celebrate the day that Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment through meditation. The word Bodhi means awakening or enlightenment. Bodhi Day is a time to make sincere vows and reflect on the achievements of great Buddhist figures, recognizing that we too have the capacity for awakening to our true nature as a buddha.
On Bodhi Day, Buddhists honor the achievement of enlightenment and recall the Buddha’s triumph over Mara, the personification of temptation and all the forces that conspire to prevent awakening.
People celebrate by traditionally lighting candles or string lights around altars and temples, signifying enlightenment, for 30 days following Bodhi Day. Many Buddhists also decorate a tree with colored lights—symbolizing the many paths to awakening—to commemorate the Buddha’s enlightenment experience sitting beneath a tree.
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, is popularly known as the Buddha. Siddhartha, once an Indian Prince, eventually abandoned his life of luxury for a much simpler one. Many believe that Siddhartha sat underneath a Bodhi tree and meditated until he found the root of suffering and how to free himself from it.
The Bodhi tree grows near the banks of the Falgu River in Gaya, India. Also located there is a Buddhist temple. Buddhists consider it their most sacred site of pilgrimage.
Some Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death all on one day. They call the celebration Vesak, and follow the lunar calendar to prepare for the observance. Mahayana Buddhists in China, Korea, and Vietnam break up Vesak into three separate holy days. One of the three days includes Buddha’s enlightenment or Bodhi Day. Mahayana Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on the 8th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, which means the dates change from year to year.
Known as Rohatsu or Jodo-e in Japan and elsewhere by other names, this holiday is widely observed in the Mahayana traditions of East Asia and across the globe. Theravada Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment on Vesak, which commemorates the Buddha’s birth and death as well as enlightenment and falls in April or May.
China’s Laba Festival is a form of Bodhi Day, though it is not always popularly recognized as such. The traditional food is Laba congee, a rice-based porridge with nuts and dried fruits and sometimes lamb. At Buddhist temples on Laba, monks hand out bowls of this steaming porridge to warm visitors.
How to Observe Bodhi Day
While the day celebrates the founder of the Buddhist faith, the day quietly reflects the ways of enlightenment. No parades or fanfare herald the name of the Buddha through city streets. Some eat tea and cookies. Others decorate a Bodhi tree. For most, it’s a day of meditation. Even if you’re not Buddhist, you can still participate in this day.
Learn about the Buddhist religion.
Read about how these celebrities became Buddhists: Tina Turner, Kate Hudson, Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom, and Tiger Woods.
Light candles or put up brightly colored lights to signify Buddha’s enlightenment.
Read books about Buddhism, including Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, Taking the Path of Zen, and Mindfulness in Plain English.
Watch documentaries about Buddha, including The Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha, and Angry Monk
Virtual backgrounds are one of the easiest ways to celebrate Bodhi Day today! Just replace your normal backdrop with one that celebrates Vesek! Get your friends and co-workers to share and join in on the celebration too!
Right-click the image then save as to your computer. Open your Zoom application and update your background to the file you saved from this page.
Social Media Activity
- Click and save the images below to your device.
- Then post it on social media and tag us using the social handles below!
- EXAMPLE WORDS: Today we are excited to celebrate #BodhiDay and take time to recognize and honor the achievement of enlightenment. For all of our Special Olympics Maryland athletes who practice the Buddhist faith, we hope you are able to take time to celebrate. We’ve created a hub of information about this holiday and ways you can celebrate by learning more, check out all of the information and resources below! https://bit.ly/3IzoxGu
- EXAMPLE WORDS: Happy #BodhiDay! Today I am excited to celebrate my Buddhist faith by meditating and reflecting on my past year and preparing for the year ahead. One way I plan to reflect is by _(what you are using from the SOMD Bodhi Day website)_, you can check out this resource and more by using the link below to help you learn more and celebrate! https://bit.ly/3IzoxGu
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