Okay folks, here we go. Here is a list of some ideas that I've come up with as activities that we might want to do as a family for Vesak. Wow, that was a mouthful...Please take a look, give your opinions, offer suggestions and/or other new ideas, and offer your perspectives. Most of these activities I've geared for ages between 4-12 years old, give or take.
As for the official date of our celebrations, they should probably occur during the week prior to April 8. April 8th is the day that Japan observes as Buddha's Birthday. So here are my ideas:
1. Read to your children, the story of Buddha's birth, early life and continue up to and slightly after, his enlightenment. This story can be found in a few different forms here: http://buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/index.htm. Or if you'd prefer the hard copy, check out a few different versions like "Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha" on amazon.com. Also, there is always the movie, "Little Buddha" with Keanu Reeves - a little hard for some youngsters to understand, but the story within the story, of Buddha's life is pretty neat.
2. Like we have an egg hunt for Easter, we could do an "elephant hunt" - I chose elephants because Siddhartha's mother dreamt of a white elephant while she was pregnant with him. Elephants are cute for young kids and I thought they would enjoy them. You can cut out paper elephants for your kids to color (as many as you'd like). Or you can find plastic or wooden elephants to use - it doesn't matter what they're made of. Number them, if they are a toy - each number will correspond to a task, a treat, or an activity. If you use paper, you can write these things on the back. The tasks can include anything you want, examples may be: go to lunch/breakfast with dad or mom (the idea is only one parent, so they have quality time with that person), help mom/dad with the dishes, laundry or garbage, make a gift for a neighbor or friend, play a game (of your choice) with your family, make a birdhouse/birdfeeder with dad. The idea is to get them thinking about doing things for, and with other people and not about "getting" a present for themselves. If you don't like the elephant idea, we could still do an egg hunt with bits of paper with the tasks written on them...just an idea.
3. If you have older children, who may not enjoy the elephant hunt, then create a scavenger hunt - to symbolize how Buddha left home in search of the truth. The scavenger hunt should be a fun search you can do together, but maybe relate back to what the Buddha went in search for, I'm open for suggestions here. I haven't worked out all the details for one of these yet, I figured we could do that together. Here is a nice site with some creative ideas: http://www.birthdaypartyideas.com/html/ ... _hunt.html . If you scroll down a bit, there is a list of hunts that others have created for B-day parties, not related to what we're doing, but it gets you thinking.
4. Make and enjoy a meal/treat of rice pudding together. I realize not everyone may enjoy this, it's just an idea. But this can be done while reading the part of Buddha's story where the girl offers him a meal of rice/ricemilk because he is in such poor health from his ascetic practices. This is a symbol of the balance we must all have in our life. Or as my dad used to say, "Too much of a good thing, can be bad for you" or "everything in moderation".
5. Make Vesak lanterns! Shawn/Shards posted a lovely link above on how to make them, he read my mind I think . Each family member should make one to symbolize the light within each of us, when put together, can truly brighten a room and our world (yes, I can be corny at times). It also symbolizes the moment at which Buddha found the truth and became enlightened. This can be lit each night leading up to Buddha's birth, or simply for the tea washing ceremony described below.
6. On the day, April 8th - we can have an online ceremony (held by Jundo, Taigu, or maybe one/all of our ordained priests in training) where we will wash a figure of baby Buddha in tea water. This tradition is explained a little more here: http://buddhism.about.com/od/buddhistho ... akpuja.htm . I realize we may not all have a Baby Buddha figure to do this ourselves, but I don't see why we can't make one. Find a picture online, maybe on buddhanet.net and the laminate it. Or find a large smooth rock and help your child/children paint a figure of baby Buddha on it (I mean no disrespect here, just brainstorming ideas). I will post a link to some pictures of Buddha as well as elephant patterns in the crafts thread.
7. As a family, make a donation of money, food, clothes, etc. to a foodbank, shelter, or other charitable org. Either take your children to the facility to drop items off, or ask them to contribute a portion of their chore/holiday/spending money to donate to the cause of your choice. Or, make soup or some type of food to deliver to a sick/elderly neighbor and maybe spend time visiting if they want.
8. Get outside - if weather permits and get in touch with nature. This was included as part of my "elephant hunt" ideas, but I'm putting it here anyways...As a family, work together to make a bird feeder or a bird house and put it up outside your home. My boys loved to do this at our last house - it is definitely in our plans for spring. Go to a park to have a picnic, go for a walk and enjoy the scenery, and then spend some time afterwards picking up trash and cleaning the area around you to show your kids how important it is that we all work together to keep our world clean. April is also the month that includes Earth Day, so I thought this would honor Buddha as well.
9. Plant something with your kids to symbolize life - rebirth. This could be flowers to give to someone once they bloom, or they could be for your family to enjoy. Or start an herb garden so your children can see the magic of life as it grows, and then how it can nourish our bodies.
10. Every night for the week before April 8th, light 3 candles at dinnertime to signify Buddha's search to end the impurities of greed, anger and ignorance. Or to symbolize the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
Let's get the discussion going...let me know what you think.