How to Celebrate Bodhi Day

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In the world of Buddhism, an important day of celebration is December 8th. This is the day that many Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, or the occasion when the Buddha attained enlightenment on this same day in 596 BC while sitting under the Bodhi tree. The Buddha taught his followers to fit into the neighborhood in which they lived and not to make a spectacle of themselves or to draw undue attention.

Due to this adaptable way of thinking, Buddhist culture and traditions are easily shared and enjoyed even by non-Buddhists.

Learn the background of this Buddhist celebration and the ways you can join in this December.

The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama, who would later become the Buddha, was a prince in Nepal who had lived a comfortable and sheltered life under the care of his family. Still, Siddhartha was an inquisitive sort and traveled about witnessing the misery of old age, sickness, and suffering. These profoundly affected him, and at the age of 29, he chose to leave his comfortable surroundings and seek meaning in life.

After spending six years living the life of an aesthetic and serving under six teachers, he was still unsatisfied. He tried many different disciplines, even going so far as to survive by eating only one grain of rice per day, but he soon realized that this was not the answer. Unable to find answers to his questions, he vowed that he would sit under the Bodhi tree (sometimes called Pipal tree, Peepul tree, Pippul tree, or Bo tree in certain texts) until he had his answers.

Siddhartha fasted and meditated under this tree for a week, and on the morning of the eighth day came to several realizations which were to become the principles of modern Buddhism. It was here, as Siddhartha meditated and gazed upon Venus rising, that the basis of The Noble Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths were born.

From this point forward he was referred to as the Buddha - The Enlightened One. He was also known as Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan) Buddha.

Celebrating Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day, the day of enlightenment, can be celebrated in many ways. To the Buddhist, it is a day of remembrance and meditation, much like the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

To the layman, a good way of recognizing this important event in Buddhism is to dwell on its meaning and place reminders in the home of this event. Often, colored lights are strung about the home to recognize the day of enlightenment. They are multi-colored to symbolize the many pathways to enlightenment. The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for 30 days thereafter. A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolize enlightenment.

In Buddhist homes, you will sometimes see a fiscus tree of the genus ficus religiousa. Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-colored lights, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

A meal of rice and milk is significant on this holiday. According to Buddhist legend, following his awakening this was the first meal offered to the Buddha by Sujata to help him regain strength.

To get children involved in this holiday, make cookies in the shape of a leaf or a tree to symbolize the Bodhi Tree.

  • Tip: The leaves of the Bodhi tree are heart shaped, so a Valentine's Day cookie cutter can be a handy tool for this project.

Bodhi Day is of importance to Buddhists being especially celebrated by Buddhists of the Pure Land, but participating in your own way can be a noteworthy experience for anyone of any culture.

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Alden Smith is an award-winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.