The Origins and Practice of Holidays: Mahayana New Year

January 21 – 23, 2019 - Mahāyāna New Year 

Mahāyāna, which means 'Great Vehicle' in English. Mahāyāna is also a term that refers to Buddhist philosophies and practices. The other main branch of Buddhism is Theravada. Mahāyāna and Theraveda Buddhism differ in a few ways.

Theraveda Buddhism is commonly practiced in Southeast Asia, in places such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In these areas, they follow the original Indian form of Buddhism very closely. Theraveda Buddhism places importance on the language of Pali in worship, the birth language of Buddha.  

Mahāyāna Buddhism is more commonly practiced in Northeast Asia, in place such as Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. As a result, Mahāyāna Buddhism, absorbed local customs from those areas, and includes some of these cultural customs as well. Mahāyāna Buddhism is therefore more commonly practiced in the United States among immigrants from the countries where it is practiced.

Mahāyāna Buddhists believe that enlightenment can be achieved during an individual’s single or current lifetime. This enlightenment is not just reserved for monks; ordinary Buddhists also have the opportunity to achieve it. The goal for everyone is to become enlightened through service and helping others to achieve nirvana as well.

The Mahāyāna New Year is different for each country and tradition. Some  Mahāyāna Buddhists celebrate it on December 31 or January 1 along with the rest of the world. Others wait for the first full moon which usually falls mid-January. The 2019 celebration will be held January 21 – 23. Mahāyāna Buddhists will celebrate by honoring and praying to their gods, particularly Buddha. Buddha's statues will also be bathed as a show of respect. Religious songs are also offered to the deities. Buddhists are expected to visit a nearby temple on New Years Day. Once there, they light candles to bring happiness and good luck for the coming year.

For Buddhists, the new year is a time for meditation and self reflection. The goal is to find ways to improve and learn from past mistakes. Buddhists also believe that buying new items, cleaning and redecorating the home and giving gifts can bring good luck. They also celebrate with feasts that are filled with sweets, and there are typically fireworks at midnight.


Mahayana Buddhism

Bodhisattva Precepts

If there's a particular celebration you or someone you know participates in that we missed, let us know by leaving a comment on this post. Or, if you think we got something wrong, please also comment and let us know. We try to be as accurate as possible, but if there's a mistake, we want to correct it.