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Festivals in Malaysia

Festivals in Malaysia

Malaysia's Festivals and Celebrations:

One of the significant characteristics of Malaysian culture is its celebration of various festivals and events. The year is filled with colourful, exhilarating and exciting activities. Some are religious and solemn but others are vibrant, joyous events. One interesting feature of the main festivals here is the ‘open house’ custom. This is when Malaysians celebrating the festival invite friends to come by their homes for some traditional delicacies and fellowship. Festivals such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri are celebrated mostly in the villages or home towns of the urbanites. Every year, just before the festival, Muslims nationwide balik kampung or return to their home towns to meet their family and friends. These family reunions are also celebrated during other main festivals in the country. With people decked out in their traditional finery, these festivals are an integral feature of Malaysian society. Here are some of the festivals in Malaysia (dates may vary from year to year as some are based upon the lunar calendar).


Celebrated by the Muslims on the 12th day of the third moon in the Muslim Calendar. also known to Muslims as Maulud Nabi. Prophet Muhammad was born on 12 Rabiulawal in 570 AD. It was after his death that Muslims started celebrating his birthday.


Celebrated by Muslims as the day symbolises two happy event in a Muslim's life. The start of Muslim year or calendar, Muharram, coincides with Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina on the first of Muharram in 622AD. To signify this occasion, Muslims attend to various religious activities, spiritual singing, religious meeting throughout the country.


Chinese New Year – February Celebrated on the first day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, this is the most important annual festival for the Chinese community. Each year is named after one of the 12 animals according to the Chinese Zodiac. Houses are cleaned and decorated to prepare for the big day. Debts are settled, prayers and offerings are made. New clothes are bought and plenty of food are prepared. Family members from far come back for the gathering. New year cards are exchanged between friends and relatives. A reunion dinner for the family is held on the eve of the new year. Bad language and unpleasant topics are discouraged. There are lion dances and small fire works. Red paper showing Chinese characters of prosperity and wealth are pasted either in front or inside the house. Ang-Pow or red packet containing money is given out to children and elderly. Open house is practised for visiting relatives and friends with various ethnic races. The new year is lasted for fifteen days which the concentration is on the first three days. The celebration ends with the Chap Goh Mei on the fifteenth day.


Thaipusam – January Celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindus calendar. It is believed on this day the stars, Pusan and Brihaspati are united into one. It is a celebration of the birthday of Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Muruga, the youngest son of Lord Shiva. Before this day, Hindus usually prepare themselves by fasting, dieting on certain food and maintaining self-discipline. A huge procession of penitents in an atmosphere electric with drumming and chanting. Skewers fastened metal hooks, spikes on their body including tongues, cheeks and nipples defying all sense of pain. A fire walking ceremony is also demonstrated in some temples.


celebrated around May by Buddhists which marks three momentous events in Buddha's life - his birthday, enlightenment, and achievement of Nirvana. The celebration begins at dawn when devotees gathering at the temples to meditate on the Eight Precepts. Donations, giving food to the needy, offerings of incense, joss sticks and prayers are carried out. The sutras are chanted in unison by monks in saffron robes. The celebration is highlighted by a candle procession.


Celebrated by the Kadazan of Sabah each May with thanksgiving dedicated to the rice gods. Agricultural shows, exhibitions, cultural programmes, buffalo races, and other traditional games are held. There is much merrymaking and feasting with rice wine flowing freely throughout the festivities.


Known also the mid-autumn festival which falls on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese Lunar Calendar. This is a historical festival rather than a religious one. It marks the successul rebellion against the Mongol ruler dated back in 14th century China. Legend has indicated that the secret about a plot against the Mongolians was hidden inside the mooncake and the mooncake was distributed widely. Lanterns were used at night as signals from higher grounds and hilltop. Today, this festival is celebrated with moon cakes and latern hanging on the house. The lantern and the moon cakes have attracted many children and adults attention. In certain area, lantern procession and competition are held.


(or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri) Celebrated by the Muslims signifies the end of the fasting season of Ramadan for a month. The celebration is determined by sighting of the new moon. This is the most significant celebration for the Muslims. Muslims starts the day by congregating in the mosques early in the morning to perform Hari Raya Puasa prayers followed by visits to the graves of the departed. This festive occasion is greeted with great joy, the young will ask for forgiveness from their elders and everyone will put on new clothes. Open house or invitation for relatives and friends to come to their house is practised. Plenty of traditional Malay delicacies are served during this festive season. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and decorated with the lighting of oil lamps to welcome the angels which is believed to be visiting the earth during the seven days preceding the festivall. The celebration lasts for a month which the celebration is concentrated in the first three days.


celebrated by the Muslims on the tenth day of the last month of the Muslim calendar. This is an occasion celebrated marking the conclusion of the annual Haj - the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, when the pilgrims are given the title of Haji for men and Hajjah for women. Thanksgiving prayers are offered in the mosques. An animal is sacrificed whose meat was distributed among the relatives and the poor. c


Celebrated on the Hindu month of Kartik in October / November. It is also called the Festivals of Lights. The celebration symbolises the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura. It marks the return of Rama after 14 years of exile. On this day, the Hindu wake up at dawn, bathe themselves in herbal oil, put on new clothes, and say their prayers. Homes of the Hindus are lit with little oil lamps made from clay pots filled with coconut oil and wicks. This is believed to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth who will not enter an unlit house.


Celebrated by Christian on the 25th of December marking the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated by non-christian in some other ways as well. It is a family gathering occassion starting with a midnight mass on Christmas Eve followed by Christmas Day celebration the next day. Legend has it that the Santa Claus brings presents for people at night during the christmas eve. Exchange of gifts are popular. Roast turkey is a common and traditional dish.

Colours of Malaysia - May to June:

This event kicks off with a colourful parade displaying the diversity of Malaysian culture through music and dance.

Gawai-1–2 June or HARI GAWAI:

Gawai Dayak, a festive celebrated in Sarawak on 1st June every year is both a religious and social occasion. It is a thanksgiving day marking good harvest and a time to plan for the new farming season or activities ahead for the Dayaks, which generally refers to the Iban, Bidayuh and the Orang Ulu communities in Sarawak. Their homes are cleaned and the graves of ancestors are tended to. Gawai is an occasion for parties, fun and games, processions and ‘open houses’. The Ibans working outside their village returned to the village for the celebration. Celebrations begin with a reunion dinner for the entire family. Here, the youngest member of the family will offer the parents a plate of specially prepared food. There is singing, dancing and considerable drinking of tuak or rice wine in the local longhouses. Livestock is also sacrificed to ensure a good harvest the following season.

Lantern & Mooncake Festival: (Mid-Autumn) – September

Although its origins were founded in times of war in China where it celebrates the overthrow of the Mongols during the end of the Yuan Dynasty (120G- 1341 AD) in China. the lantern and 'Mooncake Festival' or 'Tang Lung' has come more to symbolise a quiet celebration of peace and shared prosperity. Legend has indicated that the secret about a plot against the Mongolians was hidden inside the mooncake and the mooncake was distributed widely. Lanterns were used at night as signals from higher grounds and hilltop. Today Malaysians of all walks of life celeborates this festival with colorful lantern hanging on the house & enjoying the highly delectable variety of mooncakes available. These cakes are rich, round pastries filled with a mixture of sweet red bean paste, lotus nut paste, or salted egg yolk. Mooncakes are available throughout the country for about a month while lantern processions and competition are held around in some neighbourhoods.

Hungry Ghost Festival:

Celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month by Buddhists and Taoist, it is believed according to Chinese tradition, that the gates of hell are opened to free the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth. Some even think that the ghosts would seek revenge on those who had wronged them in their lives. The reason why the Chinese celebrate this festival is to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. They also feel that offering food to the deceased appeases them and wards off bad luck. Sacrificial offerings are made by burning fake money notes, which are also known as ‘hell money’ and even paper television or radio sets. Some families also burn paper houses & cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their world. Religious ceremonies are also held at temples

Tadau Ka’amatan: ( 30-31 May)

Thanksgiving is offered to the spirit of the padi, Bambaazon, by the KadazanDusun in Sabah. Abundant rice wine or tuak, delicious food, dancing and other festivities take place as part of the celebrations.

Food and Fruits Fiesta: – July

This is your chance to sample the best of Malaysia’s tempting local delicacies such as satay and nasi lemak, tropical fruits and delectable desserts during this month-long fiesta.

National Day: - 31 August

Malaysians everywhere celebrate Merdeka Day or the nation’s independence on this day.

National Water Festival:

Water resource plays an important role in the socio-cultural and economic development of the Malaysian society. Apart from functioning as a communication system, an economic, resource and determinant of early settlement pattern of the Malaysian society, it had also been a place where families carried out their recreational activities in the past. Therefore, water resource in whatever form should be protected, valued and utilized to the maximum. The fun gets merrier with the drinking of the inevitable tapai which is an alcoholic drink made from rice wine. Apart from these, there are also organised agriculture shows, buffalo races, cultural performances and traditional games as part and parcel of the festive celebrations.

Flora Fest: (July)

Malaysia, with year-round sunshine and high humidity, provides the ideal climatic conditions for a rich plant life, amongst them a profusion of flowering species. Every year, in July, the Flora Fest is held to celebrate the beauty of Malaysia's blooms through various floral-themed events and competitions. The week-long festival culminates in a spectacular Floral Parade, whereby flower-bedecked animated floats will make their way through the main streets of Kuala Lumpur, accompanied by marching bands, equestrian units and dance troupes.

Malaysia Fest (September)

Pesta Malaysia, or Malaysia Fest, is a two-week affair held in September of every year. First held in 1987. it aims to create awareness and appreciation of Malaysian culture, craft and cuisine. This is one of the best times to make your journey to Malaysia if you are a new visitor. All the thirteen states of Malaysia participate in the event, which is held in Kuala Lumpur. Among the programs and activities visitors can look forward to will be cultural shows, demonstrations of the beautiful Malaysian handicrafts, and cuisine of the thirteen states. Streets are strung with lights, while shopping complexes and hotels compete for awards in creative light decorations. If you can only make it to one festival, this is the one to aim for.

Festival of San Pedro

Portuguese Settlement, Malacca (June 24 - 26) A delightful cultural event to celebrate the birthday of the patron saint of fishermen, San Pedro. The fishing boats, which are colorfully decorated for the festival, are blessed and prayers offered for a better season.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the Chinese lunar calendar. Devotees flock to the temples throughout the country for this religious festival. The Nine Emperor Gods are part of a spirit-medium cult known locally as ‘Jieu Hwang Yeh’. These Nine Deities are believed to dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign of ‘Thien Hou’ - the Queen of Heaven. A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, take vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. A procession to send the Nine Emperor Gods home then takes place to complete the rites of this religious festival.

Penang International Dragon Boat Festival

Penang International Dragon Boat FestivalThe Penang's first Dragon Boat Race was held in 1956 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Municipality of George Town. 10 years later the race was revived as part of the Pesta Pulau Pinang. The Pesta races was originally confined to participation from the local teams such as teams from Government Department, associations and commercial establishments. However, in 1979, the boat festival became an international tourism carnival with 2 participation from overseas, Singapore and Hong Kong. The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival has participating teams all over the world include Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Macau, Thailand, Japan, Britain, West Germany, USA and others.