Holiday to mark Buddha's Birthday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 November, 1997, 12:00am

Buddha's Birthday will be marked by a public holiday from 1999, Executive Councillors decided yesterday.

Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said: 'The designation of Buddha's Birthday as a general holiday reflects Hong Kong's freedom of religion and our respect for both Eastern and Western cultures.' The Hong Kong Buddhist community had tried for many years to have Buddha's Birthday, which falls on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, a general holiday, he added.

'There are an estimated 800,000 Buddhists in Hong Kong, and the bulk of the local population, even if not Buddhists themselves, respect Buddha,' Mr Cheung said.

'Buddhism is a very important religion in the East and Buddha's Birthday is an important oriental religious festival.' Asked whether the Chief Executive, a Buddhist, had pushed for the move, Mr Cheung said: 'You'll have to ask Mr Tung. This is simply a collective decision of the Executive Council.' However, the change will not mean an extra day off for workers. Mr Cheung said the number would remain at 17, with the Buddhist holiday replacing one of the six existing general holidays which are not statutory.

Among those that could be lost are Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Monday and Boxing Day. Asked whether the move would amount to a discrimination against Christians, Mr Cheung said: 'We have not made up our mind on which days will be lost . . . We would rather leave it to public consultation.

'We are not dictating the agenda here. We are saying we've got six days to manoeuvre.' President of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association, the Reverend Sik Kwok Kwong, welcomed the decision.

'We are very happy. Although we could not achieve it under British rule, we managed to under the SAR Government,' he said.

'Where there's a will, there's a way.'