Bodhi Day – The Best Day of the Year

Happy Bodhi Day!

Happy Bodhi Day! My family and I have been celebrating Bodhi Day for a few years and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite holidays. I’m not sure why exactly. There’s certainly much more hoopla around holidays like Christmas, Easter and Halloween – but maybe that’s part of it. I love the quiet joy and togetherness of Bodhi Day. There aren’t long to-do lists or high expectations, just pure and simple delight. 

What is Bodhi Day? 

Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday usually celebrated on December 8th, commemorating the day Buddha achieved enlightenment. As the story goes, Siddhartha Gautama was born a wealthy prince somewhere in modern-day India. At his birth, a Brahmin prophesied that he would grow to become either a renowned king or a sage. 

Of course, Siddhartha’s father, the king, wanted his son to become a great leader and successor to his throne. So he hatched a plan. He would give his son every delight and ensure he never left (or wanted to leave) the palace. This way, he would never encounter the hardships of life that often turn people toward spiritual questions (and could lead to a monastic lifestyle). 

Unfortunately (or fortunately) Siddharta did what all young people do – he ventured out, where he encountered an old person (realizing that all people will age), a sick person (realizing that all people can become ill), and a funeral procession (realizing that all people will die). 

It was a big day, perspective-wise. 

These realizations impacted Siddhartha so much that he left the throne to seek answers and enlightenment. He tried many avenues, including extreme self-denial which pushed him to the brink of death. However, he was no closer to enlightenment, leading him to realize that one cannot achieve enlightenment through extremes, but should rather follow the “middle way” of balance. Finally, Siddhartha vowed to meditate until he found enlightenment. It was here, sitting beneath a Bodhi tree, that Siddhartha finally achieved enlightenment, which he spent the rest of his life sharing with others. 

On Bodhi Day, we celebrate enlightenment – both achieved in profound ways as Buddhas are said to have done and in small moments throughout everyday life. 

My family’s favorite Bodhi Day traditions: 

  1. Decorating the Bodhi Tree

Ok, so I don’t own a Bodhi Tree. I’m not even sure exactly what a Bodhi Tree is or where to get one. Fortunately, we’re fans of the middle way, so we make do with what’s accessible. In the past, we’ve decorated ferns, Hawaiian Hopeak plants, and more. This year, we’re decorating a spiky palm tree that we got at the supermarket. It will work beautifully. 

We decorate the tree with:

  • Colored lights, which represent unity and the many pathways to enlightenment. 
  • Little paper Dharma Wheels – one for each tenent of the Noble Eight-Fold Path, which are: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
  • Three shiny ornaments to symbolize the Three Gems (Buddhists love to number things), which are the Buddha (enlightenment), the Dharma (teachings), and the Sangha (community). 
  • Lastly, we place a small Buddha figure in the place of meditation under the tree.

2. We read the story of the Buddha (I like this BBC summary).

3. Then we usually watch a few Buddhist videos like these:

4. We do a simple guided meditation together, usually one from the Insight Timer app. 

5. We make tree- or leaf-shaped cookies.

6. For dinner, we eat a vegetarian, plant-heavy meal like these delicious Buddha Bowls. 

7. Then we have Milk Rice – a sweet, creamy dish which a young girl gave the Buddha after his period of extreme self-deprivation to replenish his strength. This is a pretty awesome recipe here (I skipped the pandan leaf, as I wasn’t sure where to get one and didn’t feel as comfortable swapping it for an alternative as I was with the Bodhi tree – cause of eating it and all).

Bodhi Day is just pure delightful fun, with an important message: Life can be hard. This is inescapable. But we can choose not to make it harder or prolong unnecessary suffering by focusing on the light. And enLIGHTenment is available to us all. 

5 thoughts on “Bodhi Day – The Best Day of the Year

    1. Thank you, Bob! And thank you so much for sharing! I think the uncommercialized aspect of Bodhi Day (particularly in Western Culture) is one of the main reasons I love it so much. It’s just pure, sustainable fun – and even simple parts (like encouragement of a vegetarian or plant-based diet) are good steps toward a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle – which is always a win. 🙂


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