Buddha Purnima is a unique religious holiday in the sense that it celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of the central figurehead of a religion. Buddha Purnima is the name designated to the holiday that is in use by Buddhist India, Bangladesh and Nepal. However, despite the different names Buddhists globally celebrate this holiday in one form or another. Also, despite the long history of Buddhism – Buddha Purnima has only been celebrated as the Buddha’s birthday since 1950. This came about during the first World Fellowship of Buddhists that was held in Sri Lanka during the same year. The holiday is unique in regards to the time of year it is celebrated as well.
The change in date stems from the use of different lunar calendars that are inherent in the cultures that practice Buddhism as a form of worship. Generally the date falls between April and May for each country. Celebrations also differ depending on the cultural specifics of followers. However a common thread is the ceremony that is held before dawn that all Buddhists are expected to attend. Buddha Purnima ceremonies general consist of singing Buddhist hymns and showering praise upon The Dharma, The Sangha and The Buddha. Devotees are also urged to bring offerings to lie at the feet of a large statue of The Buddha or their teacher.
The offerings generally consist of flowers of joss-sticks. The offerings are generally something that withers or burns up in order to represent life itself. For example, life fades quickly as to the offerings – in this regard you are expected to enjoy it while it lasts. Buddhists are asked to refrain from eating meat for the duration of the celebration in order to save the lives of the animals that would otherwise have died. Sri Lanka closes all stores that slaughter animals for meat and those that sell liquor. This is a government requirement with stiff penalties for those who disobey.
During the celebrations Buddhists are also urged to donate to charitable organisations or those who are less fortunate. They are also asked to entertain people in order to enrich their lives and those of the people they are entertaining. During Buddha Purnima donations to charitable organisations are noticeably higher than any other time of the year. This is to pay homage to the teachings taught by The Buddha which revolve around sharing and caring for others who may not be as fortunate as you.