As is the case with most of Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing religion in Chiang Mai and Northorthern Thailand. There are Buddhist temples scattered around all the city districts. Unlike many churches in the west, these temples are an integral part of communities. Local residents visit temples on the full and dark moon each month plus to make merit on major holy days.
The Lanna New Year, Makha Bucha, Visakha Bucha, Khao Phansa and Och Phansa are important days on the calendar for Buddhists. Making merit typically involves the giving of traditional sweets, fruit, dried food and a bag of uncooked sticky rice to monks. There are unique rites linked to a few of the holy days. At Makha Bucha, people walk around the viharn (chapel) holding lit candles while thousands of people embark on a pilgrimage to the hilltop Wat Doi Suthep on Visakha Bucha. Read more about Chiang Mai Festivals.
Poy Luang are parties usually held to consecrate a new Buddha statue or building at a temple. They are staged in February or March and involve lots of entertainment, parades, dancing and generally having a good time. Customs vary from district to district, but houses are usually spruced up for the occasion and turned into venues for lots of pre-parade eating and drinking.
Thais in general are tolerant of other religions and their beliefs. In addition to the diverse collection of Buddhist temples, there are ornate Chinese temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches in Chiang Mai. Visitors are even able to celebrate midnight mass on Christmas Eve at churches including the Sacred Heart of Jesus.