Malaysia has a number of festivals and celebrations, most of which are either religious or cultural in origin, and are swathed in traditions and rituals. Malaysia. A country where one can experience a multitude of cultural celebrations and festivals, as well as, and most importantly, good food(!) all year round. Almost every month of the year, tourists and locals alike immerse themselves in one celebration or another, thanks
to the diverse cultural practices we have. To help our foreign friends have a better overview of the festivities to look forward to when visiting Malaysia, and also for the benefit of locals, here is a list of the monthly cultural celebrations and festivities Malaysia has to offer.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">(Note: Some celebrations may vary from year to year as they are based on lunar calendars.) Thousands flock to Batu Caves to participate in the Thaipusam Festival. January</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Thaipusam<br /> Celebrated by the Tamil community, the manifestation of Thaipusam is best witnessed at Batu Caves in Selangor, or in Penang. The jaw-dropping sight of devotees carrying ornately decorated frames, better known as kavadis, would stay with you long after you’ve experienced it; this unique festival is a sight to behold. February</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Chinese New Year<br /> Celebrated worldwide by the Chinese to mark the first day of the New Year in the Chinese lunar calendar, the celebrations last for 15 days. Expect fireworks, lion dances, the prominence of the colour red, and open houses with scrumptious Chinese meals! Chap Goh Mei, or the 15th night of Chinese New Year, symbolises the end of the festival. To celebrate the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day, young women inscribe messages or well-wishes on oranges and throw them into lakes or ponds. April</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Good Friday<br /> Held in churches to mark the “saddest day” in the Christian calendar, it is observed in remembrance of Christs’ Passion, crucifixation and death. On the Sunday that follows Good Friday, Easter Sunday is celebrated to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. Malaysia Water Festival</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">A country with natural settings of lakes, beaches, seas, Malaysia hosts this event annually with a variety of water-based sports. Activities such as kayaking, fishing, and cross-channel swimming promises a whole load of adrenaline-pumping time! May</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Wesak Day<br /> Celebrated by Buddhists to pay homage to Buddha and to mark the three significant events in Buddha’s life (his birthday, enlightenment, and achievement of Nirvana) the festival begins with meditation and prayers. Donations are made to the poor and needy. Harvest Festival</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Known to Sabahans as Pesta Ka’amatan, it is a thanksgiving festival to celebrate the rice harvest. The festivities include traditional sports such as the buffalo race, the best tapai (rice wine) competition, and the “Unduk Ngadau” or Ka’amatan Queen Competition. June</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Hari Gawai<br /> The Gawai Dayak is celebrated in Sarawak to mark the end of the paddy harvesting season. It also marks the beginning of the new planting season, and activities such as dancing, singing, and a considerable amount of drinking tuak (rice wine) take place in the longhouses. Dragon Boat Festival</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Known also as the Chang Festival or Duanwu Festival, it commemorates a patriot and poet in China named Qu Yuan. The best place to witness the celebrations is in Penang, where the annual Penang International Dragon Boat Festival takes place on a grand scale. Rowers going all out during the annual dragon boat race in Penang. July</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Rainforest World Music Festival<br /> Held in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village, the annual three-day music festival is fast becoming the largest musical event in Malaysia. It celebrates the diversity of world music, while at the same time highlighting the use of traditional acoustic world instruments. August</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Independence Day<br /> Commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from the British in 1957, August 31 holds a special place in the hearts of all Malaysians. The biggest celebration of the event takes place annually at Merdeka Square, or more commonly known as Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. Hari Raya Aidilfitri</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, it marks the culmination of Ramadhan, during which Muslims the world over fast for a whole month. Traditional Malay food such as rendang, ketupat, and lemang is served. This is also a time to forgive and forget past quarrels, where family members ask for forgiveness from friends and family members. Hungry Ghost Festival</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Observed among the Chinese, the festival commemorates the opening of hell’s gates for the spirits from the lower realm to roam freely for a month. Things to note during the festival are the larger than life papier-mache figures and performances of Chinese opera and Ko-Tai (energetic singing and dancing with performers in glittering costumes). September</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Malaysia Day<br /> September 16 commemorates the establishment of the Malaysian federation in 1963, with the joining of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia. Mid-Autumn Festival Fondly known as the Tanglung (Lantern) Festival or the Mooncake Festival, it is celebrated by the Chinese to mark the end of the harvesting season. Mooncakes are a must as it also commemorates Chang Er, the moon goddess. Father and daughter inspecting the hanging Tanglungs (Lanterns). October</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Hari Raya Haji<br /> To commemorate the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, the occasion is marked most significantly by the conclusion of the annual Haj (pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca). Sacrificial-slaughtering, or korban, takes place in mosques, and the meat is distributed to the poor and needy. November</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Deepavali<br /> Also commonly referred to as Diwali or Festival of Lights, the festival is significant to all Hindus as it symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Oil lamps are lit to ward off darkness and evil, and like every other major cultural festivals in Malaysia, open houses are held. December</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Christmas<br /> A religious festival to mark the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians, Christmas in Malaysia is celebrated like everywhere else in the world. However, Christmas is also viewed as a universal celebration by many, one that that carries a secular rather than religious meaning. Even without the traditional “white Christmas”, the celebrations carry on with a kaleidoscope of lights, endless Christmas displays, and crazy shopping deals for all!</p>
For many years Malaysia has touted itself as being “Truly Asia”, and for good reason too. Malaysia is home to several ethnicities who still continue to practice the cultures and religions of their forefathers. And in the spirit of Malaysia’s multi-cultural identity, many of these cultural and religious festivities are embraced by the community as a whole and celebrated nationwide, regardless of race or belief.
While the Malaysian calendar is dotted with a number of cultural new years, religious celebrations, and harvest festivals that take place all over the country, we have listed the five most important festivals and celebrations in Malaysia.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri/ Eid al-Fitr
With more than half the country comprising of ethnic Malays who follow the state religion – Islam – the most important festival in Malaysia is the Islamic New Year celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, or as it is known in Malay, Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.
Hari Raya marks the end of the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, also known as the month Ramadhan, thus celebrating the end of a month of dawn-to-sunset fasting. Celebrated as a two-day nationwide holiday in Malaysia, many families would travel back to their hometowns to celebrate with their extended families.
It is customary for some Muslim families to host ‘rumah buka’ or ‘open house’, where they welcome neighbours and members of the community into their house to join in the celebrations where one can enjoy festive food such as curry chicken, beef rendang , chicken satay, ketupat, lemang, rose syrup, cakes, cookies, and tarts.
During the Eid celebrations, the streets of major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta, the streets are often draped in spectacular decorations that are brightly lit at night.
Image: Choo Yut Shing used under the Creative Commons Licence
Chinese New Year
Aside from Hari Raya, Chinese New Year is the only other festival in Malaysia that is given a two-day nationwide holiday. This is a time when the country really gets painted red as Chinese families and businesses would decorate their houses and streets with traditional red decorations in the age-old Chinese tradition of warding off evil spirits.
While Chinese New Year is traditionally a 15-day long celebration, most Chinese families would be busying themselves with family get-togethers on the first two days before returning to their normal routine after. That being said, many Chinese communities would continue on with celebratory traditions such as lion dance performances, lighting fireworks, and go to house visitations throughout the festive period.
It is during this period when friends and relatives are welcomed to visit one another’s homes, where sweet treats and delectable dishes are served, while red packets known as “ang pao” are given to the children.
Image: Daniel Dionne used under the Creative Commons Licence
No celebration is as colourful and vivid as the Indian festival of Diwali, or as it is known in Malaysia as Deepavali where it is designated as a national holiday. Known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali signifies the victory of light and hope over darkness.
The day starts off by taking a bath with oil and praying. Later during the day processions, street-fairs, fireworks, and get-togethers take place. It is the aromas of a variety of dishes lingering across the streets being one trait that truly symbolises the festivities of Deepavali in the areas where there is an Indian community.
Like any other festival, Deepavali is not without its pomp. In the lead-up to Deepavali and during the festive period itself, beautiful and intricate traditional rangoli artworks are made as both a decoration and a symbol of good luck. It is also during this time that the houses and streets of Malaysia are adorned with colourful lights and oil lamps.
Image: Praful Schroff used under the Creative Commons Licence
Wesak is a Buddhist festival celebrated to pay tribute to the birthday, enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana in the life of Lord Buddha. The festivities begin at dawn with Buddhists gathering at temples to pray, meditate, and offer food and charity to the poor. This national holiday is usually topped off with a grand float procession usually takes place during Wesak, where it is a sight to behold and usually features a giant statue of Buddha.
Image: Marufish used under the Creative Commons Licence
If there is a testament to Malaysia’s multi-cultural identity it is Christmas. Though it is estimated that only 9 percent of the population is Christian – and Islam being the state religion – Malaysia also celebrates Christmas as a national holiday.
It is not uncommon for Christian communities to host Christmas parties and carolling where the community is invited to join in the festivities regardless of race or creed. Not forgetting the contemporary appeal of Christmas, the lead-up to Christmas is usually accompanied by Christmas jingles being played amongst the backdrop of grand Christmas decorations in many of the nation’s shopping malls as to draw in consumers for a year-end sale.