Most Buddhist holidays are determined by moon phase rather than date, so the dates change every year. They also are determined by various Asian calendars that don't correspond to the Gregorian calendar. Further, the same holidays are observed at different times in different parts of Asia, resulting in, for example, numerous Buddha's Birthday dates.
This list of major Buddhist holidays for 2013 is ordered by date instead of by holiday, so that you can follow along through the year. And if you miss one Buddha's Birthday, just wait a few days and catch the next one.
In Tibetan monasteries, observance of Losar begins during the last days of the old year. Monks perform special rituals evoking protective deities and clean and decorate the monasteries. The first day of Losar is a day of elaborate ceremonies, including dances and recitations of Buddhist teachings. The remaining two days are for a more secular festival. On the third day, old prayer flags are replaced with new ones.
The Losar dancer in the photograph is dressed as a dharmapala.
In 2013, Losar and Chinese New Year begin in the same lunar month, but often Losar is a month later.
On this day some schools of Mahayana Buddhism observe the death of the Buddha and his entrance into Nirvana. Nirvana Day is a time for contemplation of the Buddha’s teachings. Some monasteries and temples hold meditation retreats. Others open their doors to laypeople, who bring gifts of money and household goods to support monks and nuns.
In Buddhist art, a reclining Buddha usually represents Parinirvana. The reclining Buddha in the photograph is in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Read More: The Death and Parinirvana of the Buddha
February 14-25, 2013: Monlam Chenmo (Great Prayer Festival; Gelugpa Tibetan)
The several schools of Tibetan Buddhism hold prayer festivals (monlam) at different times throughout the year. The Gelugpa Monlam Chenmo, great prayer festival, was established in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism.
Duringthe Monlam Chenmo, monks and laypeople offer prayers for the long life of the lamas, in particular His Holiness the Dalai Lama; for the protection of Buddhism; and for the well-being of all sentient beings.
February 25, 2013: Magha Puja (Sangha Day; Theravada)
This is an alternate date (to March 30, 2013) for Magha Puja, or Sangha Day, also called "Fourfold Assembly" day. Buddhists attend services at temples and offer food and other gifts to monks. It is also common to walk around a shrine or Buddha image three times as a gesture of respect for the Three Jewels -- the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
February 25, 2013: Chunga Choepa (Butter Lamp Festival, Tibetan)
The Butter Lamp Festival, Chunga Choepa in Tibetan, celebrates a demonstration of miracles attributed to the historical Buddha, also called Shakyamuni Buddha. Colorful butter sculptures are displayed, and singing and dancing go on into the night.
Sculpting yak butter is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art. Monks bath and perform a special ritual before making the sculptures. So that the butter doesn't melt as they work with it, the monks keep their fingers cold by dipping their hands into cold water.
The photograph shows monks carrying a butter sculpture for display at the Ta'er Monastery in Huangzhong County of Qinghai Province, China.
For Theravada Buddhists, every new moon and full moon day is an Uposatha Observance Day. A few Uposatha Days are especially important, and one of these is Magha Puja.
Also called "Makha Bucha," Magha Puja commemorates a day when 1,250 monks, all from different places and on their on initiative, spontaneously came to pay homage to the historical Buddha. In particular, this is a day for laypeople to show special appreciation for the monastic sangha.
This is a major holiday in Thailand in particular. On this day, Buddhists in much of southeast Asia gather at sunset in their local temples to participate in candlelight processions.
In Japan, Buddha's birthday is observed every April 8 with Hanamatsuri, or “Flower Festival." On this day people bring fresh flowers to temples in remembrance of the Buddha's birth in a grove of blossoming trees.
A common ritual for Buddha's birthday is "washing" a figure of the baby Buddha with tea. The figure of baby Buddha is placed in a basin, and people fill ladles with tea and pour the tea over the figure. These and other traditions are explained in the story of the Buddha's birth.
This is a major festival in Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Michael Aquino, the Guide to Southeast Asian Travel, writes that for Bun Pi Mai "Buddha images are washed, offerings made at the temples, and votive sand stupas are made in yards all over the country. Finally, Laotians spray water gleefully upon one another." As the photo suggests, elephants may be the ultimate water pistol.
Buddha's birthday in South Korea is celebrated with a week-long festival that usually ends on the same day as Vesak Puja in other parts of Asia. This is the biggest Buddhist holiday in Korea, observed with grand parades and parties as well as religious ceremonies.
The children in the photograph are attending a Buddha's birthday ceremony at the Chogye temple in Seoul, South Korea.