Festivals play a big part in the lives of many Buddhists. Majority of the Buddhists (except of the Japanese) use the Lunar calendar. It must be noted that the dates of Buddhist festivals and the way they are celebrated vary from country to country and between Buddhist traditions.
The most important of Buddhist festivals, Wesak is celebrated on the first full moon day in May except in a leap year when the festival is held in June. The day marks Buddha's birth as well as his enlightenment and death. The festival is celebrated with great fervor and color. People decorate their homes and make offerings of food, candles and flowers at monasteries besides the usual praying and chanting.
The Dharma Day marks the beginning of Buddha's teaching. After attaining enlightenment, Buddha went to his former disciples to share his profound experience. From this very moment, Buddhism as a religion started gaining momentum. At present, the Dharma Day is seen as a special occasion to pay obeisance to the Buddha. The day is usually celebrated with readings from Buddhist scriptures.
Also known as Magha Puja, the Sangha Day is the second most important festival in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the day when 1250 arahants gathered at Veluvana Vihara to hear Buddha preach. This festival is also seen as a great occasion to exchange gifts and reaffirm one's commitment towards the Buddhist practices.
This Mahayana Buddhist festival marks the death of Buddha and is also known as Nirvana Day. People commemorate this festival with visits to monasteries and Buddhist temples or by meditating. However, it needs to be mentioned that celebrations vary from country to country.
Losar is the most important festival in Tibet and marks the beginning of the Tibetan New Year. It is a three-day affair that is celebrated in February every year (depending on the lunar calendar). Exchanging gifts, visiting monasteries and feasting become the order of the day during this festival.
Kathina is the biggest almsgiving festival in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated after the end of the vassa period. This festival is said to have originated 2,500 years ago and is celebrated by Buddhists of the Theravada tradition.