This Friday is the Vesek Day Holiday in Thailand, this is a Buddhist Holiday. I always enjoy the discussions amongst my Thai friends and colleagues about “Buddha Days”, meaning days/holidays of significance for Buddhists. There are minor and major “Buddha Days”, Vesek Day is a ‘major’ day and major holiday in Thailand.
Before describing what Vesek Day is, I’ll address what many foreigners want to know: it is a dry day in Thailand? Yes, there won’t be alcohol sales on Friday, May 24 in most parts of Thailand. Vesek Day has festivities in the evening, ensuring the vast majority of alcohol serving establishments will not be serving on the 24th. Grocery stores and convenience stores also won’t be selling any beer, wine or spirits; certainly you can find someone to sell you some alcohol, this is Thailand and rules are designed to be bent. If you’ve go the shakes, have a read here regarding your options (hint, local stores with no cash registers, western owned hotels).
I am far from an expert, but having been in Thailand for Vesek Day in past years, I thought the description below from thaholiday.com seems to be a good summary of the meaning and what takes place (as least what I have seen in Bangkok):
As a predominantly Buddhist country (with 90% of the population as adherents of the faith), Thailand considers Visakah Puja or Wisakha Bucha, a public holiday. Buddhists give alms to monks, normally in the morning, and prepare for light-waving ceremonies at night. In between, the relics of Buddha are taken out of their shrines for a special bath and public veneration, and the faithful gather at the temples to make merits and offer flowers. Monks chant sacred hymns in Buddhist temples, and some even join the celebrations at Borobudur (in Java, Indonesia). The Royal Family usually attends ceremonies in various Thai provinces, while the rest of the Buddhist faithful offer food to the monks or attend Dharma lectures and view Buddhist exhibits in the cities. Lanterns made of paper and wood are released along with caged birds as a symbol of giving freedom to those who have been held against their will, and on a more personal level, to release oneself of past sins. Visakah Puja falls on May 24 in 2013.
This is a holiday celebrated throughout the ASEAN region, of course countries like Thailand with a Buddhist majority will be celebrating this holiday on a much larger scale than countries that are not predominantly Buddhist.