President Obama just acknowledged this Buddhist holiday
Thai Buddhists hold candles and flowers as they circle in prayer to celebrate Vesak on May 20 in Nakon Pathom province, west of Bangkok. Vesak commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. (Narong Sangnak/European Pressphoto Agency)
Presidents routinely publish statements acknowledging every sort of holiday and commemorative occasion. In the past month alone, President Obama has issued proclamations on everything from National Hepatitis Testing Day to Loyalty Day to Law Day.
For religious holidays, the White House often goes all out: Not only are there White House Christmas parties and Easter egg rolls, but the Obamas and Bidens have posted Christmas playlists on Spotify. The president has sat down for a Passover seder every year in the White House. And Obama, like presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him, has hosted Iftar dinners to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
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For the first time, Obama added an important holiday on the Buddhist calendar to that list, issuing his very first Vesak proclamation on Friday:
Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world in their celebration of Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Buddha. During this season, we reflect on Buddha’s universal teachings of peace, service, and recognition of common humanity — shared values that also bind us all as Americans. This occasion gives us an opportunity to commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to our progress and to recommit ourselves to building a brighter future for all communities, cultures, and religions. As we come together in hope for wisdom, courage, and compassion, our family sends our best wishes during this season.
Religious organizations of numerous faiths had asked Obama to make this proclamation. A group calling itself the White House Vesak 2016 Committee sent letters to Obama asking him to acknowledge the Buddhist celebration.
Perhaps Secretary of State John F. Kerry was able to tell Obama a little bit about the holiday — Kerry celebrated it with Buddhists in Sri Lanka last year.