Buddhism is one of the traditional pillars of Thai society and influences many aspects of life in Thailand. And when you see that more than 90% of the Thai population are Buddhist, you can begin to appreciate just how important Buddhism is in Thailand. As such, there are a number of significant dates in the Buddhist calendar that visitors to Thailand should be aware of. The three most important Buddhist holidays are: Makha Bucha Day, Visakha Bucha Day and Asahna Bucha Day. All three are designated as public holidays in Thailand. Although banks and many other businesses do stay open on these dates, government offices are closed. And because they are such important religious occasions, there are temporary restrictions in place on alcohol sales with entertainment venues in some areas also closing.
The exact date of each Buddhist holiday varies according to the lunar calendar. You can find specific dates for this year on our festival and event calendar.
Makha Bucha Day
Makha Bucha Day commemorates the event where 1,250 of the Lord Buddha’s disciples spontaneously gathered to hear him preach.
Visakha Bucha Day
Visakha Bucha Day is the most significant event in the Buddhist calendar. The day commemorates three defining events in the life of the Buddha, which all occurred on the full-moon day of the sixth lunar month (the Visakha month). The Visakha full moon marks the day on which the Buddha was born, reached his enlightenment 35 years later, and the day he died and entered Nirvana 45 years after that.
Asahna Bucha Day
Asahna Bucha Day commemorates the day when the Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon at a deer park at Benares in India. Traditionally, candles are amongst the items donated to the wat for Asahna Bucha and processions featuring candles are held at various towns in Thailand. The most famous of these events is the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival.
The day after Asahna Bucha is known as Wan Khao Phansa and marks the start of the three-month ‘Phansa‘ period. This is the rains retreat period when monks would traditionally stay within the confines of their own temple. The Phansa retreat period is sometimes referred to as ‘Buddhist Lent’ and ends with Awk Phansa (usually in October).
Although all three of these dates mark specific events, they are all days which have the common theme of Thai Buddhists making merit. Many Thais have a belief in karma and reincarnation with the good and bad actions in someone’s current life having an influence on their next life. Performing good deeds and accumulating merit is a way to help ease the path of the current life as well as the future lives to come.
Visiting the temple
In Buddhism, white represents purity and many devotees will wear a white top when visiting the temple on the main Buddhist holidays. Temples across the country are busier than usual on these dates with Thai people giving alms to monks and performing the wian tian ceremony. This involves a person holding a lighted candle (tian), incense and flowers as they walk clockwise in a circle (wian) three times around the main bot of the temple.
Everybody is welcome at the temple and even if you’re not religious it is still a fascinating cultural experience. Visitors are asked to dress and behave respectfully. Always ensure your knees and shoulders are covered. Take off your shoes (and hat) before entering any temple in Thailand and although it’s usually OK to take photos, do so politely and respect people’s privacy and their personal space.
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