The Wesak Moon, this year May 5-6, is also the time of the Buddha-Wesak Festival.

Vesak is a holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists in many countries and is sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday” although it actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and the passing (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha.

The exact date of Vesākha varies according to the various lunar calendars used in different traditions. For this post, I am following that the Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. Vesākha Day in China is on the eighth of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar.

The tradition is that each year the Buddha returns at this time to help humanity toward enlightenment.

On Vesākha day, devout Buddhists and followers alike are expected and requested to assemble in their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honorable, hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples).

Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight Precepts. Simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks are placed at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction.

You are also supposed to make an extra effort to refrain from killing of any kind, including eating vegetarian food for the day.

Some countries close all liquor shops and slaughter houses and birds, insects and animals are released by the thousands in what is known as a symbolic act of liberation to mark those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will.