Bodhi Day traditions and foods

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sweet sticky rice

While our family aren’t actively practising Buddhists, we are what I would call Buddhist-curious. My own interest is down to my admiration for the philosophy behind Buddhism – showing compassion for other human beings and living in moderation, as well as in the moment.

For the children, there’s something about Buddha that they have always found comforting. Having made it my mission to introduce the kids to all religions, without bias or intent, on our travel. But following our frequent visits to South East Asia an exposure to the philosophy and its customs, it is Buddhism to which they are most drawn. So much so that my little one has even taken to sleeping with a little smiling Buddha which she rubs gently until she falls asleep.

It is for these reasons we try observe the most important Buddhist Holidays, including Vesak (Buddha’s birthday) celebrated usually in April or May, and Bodhi Day,  (the day that the Buddha experienced enlightenment), which is celebrated on December 8th.

On Bodhi Day, Buddhists around the world celebrate the enlightenment of The Buddha, after his marathon meditation, and an opportune time to share a little of Buddha’s message of  inner peace and compassion for others.

As Buddhism tends to absorb local elements of custom and culture wherever it travels, we have absorbed a little of this celebration, with respect, into our own seasonal festivities.

One traditional Bodhi Day ritual we embrace  is the stringing of multicoloured lights about the place. The different coloured lights represent the different pathways to enlightenment and, strung together as they are, also represent how all things are united. And given the timing, it only adds to the glitter of our Christmas decorations. The kid’s string them up in their rooms to switch on each night for the thirty days post Bodhi Day – a task they are solely responsible for. It’s a project with glitz and sparkle so my bedazzled kids love the idea.

Buddhists are also known to set up a decorated Bodhi Tree to symbolise the tree under which the Buddha sat.  Now, as we don’t have a ficus laying about, (which is for the best given my penchant for killing house plants) there’ll be no rocking around the Bodhi tree for us. Instead we’re using a little poetic licence and have chosen instead to decorate our nice plastic Christmas tree.

My little one has come up with the ingenious idea of hanging a little Buddha from the bottom to represent Buddha, “Under the tree where he found his lights, mama!”

Buddha under the christmas tree

Traditional Bodhi Day food varies across countries, however,  it is traditional to eat a dish of milk rice to represent the first meal that Sujata, a beautiful girl with a thousand cows, offered to The Buddha after his days of fasting and meditation, to help him regain his strength. Its also popular to bake tree and lead shaped cookies.

As a family who place the wellbeing of their taste buds above all things, and given I don’t have any cows at all, I’ve decided to create an homage to the original. We love Thai-style Black Sticky Rice but, as we can’t get the black stuff at short notice, we’ll recreate a ‘pale imitation’ of the dish using white sticky rice bathed in creamy coconut milk. And I promise it is  a bowl of salty sweet deliciousness.

Happy Bodhi Day.


2 Comments on Bodhi Day traditions and foods

  1. Peaceful Radiance of the Source
    January 11, 2022 at 6:55 am (2 years ago)

    Just a quick note, because you are curious… The super cute ornament isn’t Buddha, it’s the monk Budai (or Hotei in Japanese). His nickname is Laughing Buddha, but he’s not Gautama Buddha. He’s still a great role model, though.

    • Aleney de Winter
      January 21, 2022 at 1:18 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you for your correction. As I myself delved further into Buddhism I realise you are 100% correct and he not Gautama Buddha. But you’re right he is a lovely role model and reminder.


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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