A Gweilo’s Guide to Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Hong Kong 2023
May 19, 2023
Whether you dropped down in the Victoria Harbour 25 years ago with eternal hope of your new home, or recently found yourself thriving in the Pearl of the Orient, you may still have not shaken that classic Gweilo identity and perspective of Hong Kong. Not fully clued up on what our Chinese festivals mean or what to do for Hong Kong’s big calendar events? We’re here to help with our Gweilo’s Guide!
What is Buddha’s Birthday:
Buddha's Birthday is one of the largest Buddhist festivals celebrated throughout the world. In Hong Kong, it's a national holiday and a grand affair celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th moon in the Lunar calendar, usually in April or May on the Western calendar.
This year, mark your calendar for May 26, for the holiday that commemorates the birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, and the man we now know as the Gautama Buddha.
What’s the history and meaning behind Buddha’s Birthday:
In the year 480 BCE, the Buddha was born into a royal family in Nepal.
After six years of intense spiritual practice, he achieved full enlightenment at the young age of thirty-five! This experience earned him the title of Buddha, which means "the awakened one." Sadly, the Buddha passed away when he was eighty, but his teachings and legacy continue to inspire millions of people around the world.
The exact date of the Buddha's Birthday varies depending on the Asian lunisolar calendars, which is why it's celebrated in different months in different regions. But no matter where you are, this special day is a time for reflection, community, and gratitude.
How do we celebrate Buddha’s Birthday:
The festivities start with lanterns lit up to symbolize the Buddha's enlightenment, and altars adorned with offerings and incense. Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the territory are buzzing with activity, and you can feel the positive energy in the air.
One of the highlights of the celebration is the cleansing ritual, where worshippers bow and offer prayers while pouring a ladle of water over the Buddha statue. This rite signifies the purification of one's soul and is a spiritual experience that you don't want to miss.
Places in Hong Kong you can go to celebrate the festival:
The festivities kick off at the Po Lin Monastery in Lantau Island, where you can marvel at the Tian Tan Big Buddha. This attraction is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. To get there, hop on the Ngong Ping Cable Car, and enjoy breath-taking views along the way.
If you're looking for a more serene experience, head to the Chi Lin Nunnery in the Diamond Hill District. This oasis of calmness and beauty is worth a visit, especially during the Buddha Birthday celebrations.
The Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery in Sha Tin is another great place to check out the celebrations. Although it involves a steep climb, the stunning views and complimentary vegetarian noodles make it all worth it! Please note that it's not recommended for wheelchair-bound travellers.
Organized by the Buddha's Light International Association of Hong Kong, the biggest celebration of Big Buddha takes place at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, with a vegetarian food fair, carnival games, a flower show, arts and crafts, and a "Kid's Paradise" entertainment zone taking place.
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