Buddhist Holidays: Ancestor Day & Festival of Floating Bowls

Throughout the Buddhist religion, there are many different holidays and observances. In this article, we will take a look at such celebrations like Observance Day, as well as Festival of Floating Bowls (also known as Loy Krathong).


Observance Day (Uposatha or in Sri Lanka, Poya Day): This particular holiday deals with the observance of the four traditional holy days, which involves Buddhists thriving in Theravada countries. These holy days are celebrated on the new moon, full moon, as well as quarter moon days. 


Ancestor Day (Ulambana): For Buddhists residing in Mahayana countries, there is a belief that the gates of hell open on the first day of the eighth lunar month, allowing ghosts to wander about the world for a total of 15 days. At this time, it is common to see Buddhists offer food to the ghosts, in hopes of easing their suffering. When the 15th day is reached, Ulambana or Ancestor Day is observed. This is when people visit cemeteries so that they may leave offering for their ancestors. This festival is also observed in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, where the Theravadin belief system is followed. Japanese Buddhists hold a similar holiday, which is also referred to as Obon. This holiday starts on July 13th and is observed for three days, which is meant to recognize the time that ancestors are reunited with the living.


Festival of Floating Bowls (Loy Krathong): This particular festival is observed in Thailand, when waters fill the local rivers and canals. By the end of the Kathina Festival season, this observance can be enjoyed on the full moon night of 12th lunar month. Flowers, incense sticks and candles are placed in bowls made from leaves and brought to the canals and rivers to be set afloat. It is said that all of your bad luck will escape you when following this tradition. The history behind this practice can be traced to the commemoration of the holy footprint of the Buddha, which was found on the Namada River Beach in India.


Kathina Ceremony (Robe Offering Ceremony): Considered a floating holiday, this ceremony can be accomplished on any given day within one month of the end of the 3-month rains retreat season (also known as Vassa). This is when non-clergy members present new robes and other items to the monks and nuns.


Additional festivals to keep in mind in regards to the Buddhist religion, includes Elephant Festival, which is held within the Thai Buddhist belief system. This holiday is celebrated on the third Saturday of November. It refers to the younger and older generation teaching and learning from one another. The Buddha once used an example of the tying of a wild elephant to a tame one so that they may learn from one another. In Sri Lanka, the Festival of the Tooth is held, which consists of a special procession regarding the tooth of Buddha. The tooth is help within many caskets and is never in view. This holiday is observed only once-a-year within the month of August on the full moon night.