When Is Buddha's Birthday?

Varying Dates and Many Forms of Celebration

On what day is Buddha's Birthday? That's simple. Just calculate the first full moon day of the sixth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar, which would be the fourth month of the Chinese calendar, except in years in which there's an extra full moon, and then Buddha's birthday falls in the seventh month. Well, except where it starts a week earlier. And in Tibet it's usually a month later. Oh, and in Japan, Buddha's Birthday always is April 8.

Or, you could follow the guide below. For more about how Buddha's birthday is celebrated, see "Buddha's Birthday." For dates for the current year, see the Buddhist Holiday Calendar.

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Buddha's Birthday in South Korea

Buddha's Birthday South Korea
These costumed ladies are taking part in the gala Buddha's Birthday parade and pageant held annually in Seoul, South Korea. © Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

In South Korea, Buddha's birthday is a gala week-long celebration that ends on the first full moon day of the lunar month Vesakha, which usually falls in May. This full moon day is the most commonly observed date for Buddha's birthday. Dates for upcoming Buddha's birthdays are:

  • 2017: May 3
  • 2018: May 22
  • 2019: May 12

Throughout South Korea, city streets and temples are decorated with lanterns. At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the first day begins with religious ceremonies, followed by a street fair near the temple. In the evening a gala lantern parade stretches for miles through the heart of Seoul.

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Buddha's Birthday in Southeast Asia: Vesak (Buddha Day)

Buddha's Birthday, Thailand
People walk around a Buddha statue at sunset holding candles for prayers at Buddhist Park on Vesak Puja Day in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. Theravadins combine observance of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death into one holiday, called Vesak, Visakha, or Wesak, and sometimes Buddha Day.

Vesak is the most holy day of the year for Theravada Buddhists, marked by visits to temples, candlelight processions and observance of Uposatha Precepts. Dates for upcoming Vesak observances:

  • 2017: May 10
  • 2018: May 21 or 22
  • 2019: May 19

For more about this holiday see "Vesak."

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Buddha's Birthday in Tibet: Saga Dawa Duchen

Saka Dawa pilgrims, Lhasa
Pilgrims pray at the Thousand Buddhas Hill near Lhasa, Tibet, during Saka Dawa. China Photos/Getty Images

Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, which usually begins in May and ends in June. The seventh day of Saga Dawa is the date of the historical Buddha's birth for Tibetans.

However, the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, called Saga Dawa Duchen. This is the single most important holiday for Tibetan Buddhism, usually observed with pilgrimages and other visits to temples and shrines. 

  • 2017: June 9
  • 2018: May 29
  • 2019: May 18

See also "Tibetan Buddhism: An Introduction."

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Buddha's Birthday in Japan

Hana-matsuri (Flower Festival) on the birthday of the Buddha in Kanpuku Temple, Katori City, Japan. Visitors to the temple can pour water over the figurine of baby Buddha with a ladle to re-enact the bathing of the newborn.
Alvis Upitis/Stockbyte/Getty Images

In Japan, Buddha's birthday is called Hanamatsuri, or “Flower Festival." On this day people bring fresh flowers to temples in remembrance of the Buddha's birth in a grove of blossoming trees.

  • In Japan, the Buddha's birthday is observed every year on April 8.

For more about Buddhism in Japan, see "Buddhism in Japan: A Brief History."

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Buddha's Birthday in China and Elsewhere

Vesak Baby Buddha
© Kaikai | Dreamstime.com

In most of China and most other parts of Asia, Buddha's Birthday coincides with the dates for Vesak in Southeast Asia: 

  • 2017: May 10
  • 2018: May 21 or 22
  • 2019: May 19

However, most Mahayana Buddhists celebrate the day as Buddha's birthday alone and observe the Buddha enlightenment and parinirvana on other days.