Malaysia is a multi racial country that is formed by several ethnic groups with a majority of Malays, Chinese and Indians and a minority of other ethnic groups that consist of the Sikhs and a myriad of native people who are still preserving its ancestral culture and heritage till today. When it comes to festivals in Malaysia, Malaysia can be labeled as one of the all year round country that is packed with festivals. You could name any month from the calendar and Malaysia always has something to surprise you. The major festivals here are usually celebrated by hosting open houses event whereby family, friends and relatives will pay visits and enjoy a variety of mouthwatering feast and delicacies. The dates for some of the celebrations may vary according to the calendar of each corresponding year that varies based on the race of each ethnicity. Main festivals with warmest celebrations everywhere throughout the country are none other than the Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali.
Festivals that are celebrated by large communities in Malaysia
Chinese New Year falls on the beginning of the year usually during January or February determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. Likewise, to usher in the new year, houses will be spring-cleaned and be adorned with the theme of the year based on the Chinese Zodiac or animal signs as stated in the Chinese lunar calendar. It will be a 15 days celebration of absolution. A decent amount of money that symbolises good fortune and luck, packed in red packets will be given to visitors and family that come by on this day. Food served including yee sang that symbolises prosperity, mee sua that symbolizes longevity and many more. Lion dance performances performed by trained young adults is something not to be missed.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri or simply known as Eid Mubarak Day, is a religious festival celebrated by the largest community in Malaysia, the Malays, as an indication of the end of the fasting month. Houses are cleaned thoroughly and decorated with lightings. Malay houses are brighten up with kerosene lamps until the end of the festival. It is a day full of purification and staying astray from doing bad things. Green packets filled with a certain amount of money will be distributed to guests during house visits as well. Ketupat and rendang are the main specialty of the Malays that many people look forward to. Hari Raya is also celebrated for the entire month.
The word Deepavali and Dwali is used interchangeably. This festival of lights falls on the late of October or on the first week of November yearly. This festival is celebrated by the 3rd largest community in Malaysia, the Indians. It is absolutely necessary for the streets occupied by the Indian communities to be lighted up with oil lamps to ward off evil spirits and show signs of victory. The public are invited to observe the procession and to wallow in the bazaars set up along on the streets. You will also notice that there are mixtures of coloured rice and coloured powder neatly arranged on the floor. This usually illustrates the creativity of the Indians and portrays a special meaning, seen in shopping malls.The Indians will be serving mouth-watering traditional dishes with bowlfuls of wadeh and muruku snacks to fill your stomach. A good place to watch this festival would be the Little India, either in Melaka or Kuala Lumpur.
January / February
Thaipusam falls somewhere in January or early of February, depending on the Hindu calendar. It is an annual festival celebrated by the Indians who believes in the teachings of Hindus, to commemorate their deity, Lord Murugan. In Malaysia, Thaipusam usually starts with a procession from the Hindu temple, followed by a journey of climbing up the steps to reach the top of the cave, which in this case it will be at Batu Caves, Selangor, making it a total of an eight hour ceremony. The Hindu devotees will be seen toting sacrificial burdens while pleading for blessings from their deity too.
Thaiponggal, is an Indian thanksgiving festival celebrated by the Tamils for a good harvest. This festival makes it appearance annually roughly around mid of January, based on the Tamil calendar and will take up to four days. The most significant part of this festival is the boiling of rice over a milk in a claypot as this will determine a brighter future for the family. At times like this, places such as Little India in Melaka and Kuala Lumpur is the best spot to observe this day.
Vaisakhi or Baisakhi is a harvest festival celebrated by the Sikh people and normally it comes around the mid of April. Vaisakhi is a favorable festival among the Sikh people as this marks the Punjabi New Year too. On this very day, the Sikhs will pay their respect by visiting gurudwaras, take part in processions and set up fairs that sell all kinds of handicrafts and miscellaneous items. The Sikhs will sing folk songs, put on their traditional costumes, the Bhangra dress and dance along with their lively bhangra and gidda dance moves.
The drum symbolizes the product of Malaysia’s tourism. To preserve the existence of the International Drum Festival in Malaysia, different approaches have been taken into consideration to create awareness among the younger generation such as organizing drum-making workshops and providing lessons about the art of playing of drums. Besides that, there will also be drum performances on the day of this festival. So, keep a lookout for this day to come in March or April.
The Mah Meri Ancestors Day Festival is a mythical three day festival greatly admired by the indigenous Mah Meri people that resides in Pulau Carey, Selangor. It is a form of worshipping their ancestor and the spirits for providing blessings to the villagers with all the good things that happened. As usual, offerings and prayers will play their parts and the Mah Meri people will be wearing their own handmade woven skirts and headbands. They are also well-recognized as a skillful worker when it comes to handicraft and wood sculptures. The Mayin Jo-oh, a traditional carved mask dance performance will be put on show by the men and the women will be making music out of other instruments such as the bamboo and the brass gong. The Mah Meri Ancestors Day Festival falls on March.
If you’re an avid water sports person, please mark the month of April on your calendar and head over to Labuan to participate in the Malaysia Water Festival. There are quite a few of splashing water events waiting to be discovered such as the kayak sprint challenge, cross-channel swimming, fishing tournaments, tug-of-war competition and beach volleyball matches. This festival will be kept alive for three days in a row in the month of April.
The Vesak Day or Wesak Day is celebrated by those who possessed the Buddhist religion, which is the Chinese and sometimes together with the Indians. The three primary concerns of celebrating Wesak Day is to honour the birth, enlightenment and the accomplishment of Nirvana in the life of Buddha. This sacred festival begins in the evening on the eve of the festival, with decorative floats and offerings carried by Buddhist devotees, religious chanting and sing along uttered throughout the entire procession. On the actual day itself, food offerings and donations will be seen collected from along the streets nearby any temple that is commemorating this sacred day.
The festivals in Malaysia not only celebrated by the locals here but the native people that is living in Malaysia as well. According to the myth beliefs of Kadazan and Dusun people, the spirit of rice is the almighty and creator of the source of living here. As such, Pesta Kaamatan is a harvest festival celebrated by the Kadazan and Dusun people in Sabah as a token of appreciation for a bountiful harvest once a year. The main highlights here would be religious rituals pertaining to the thanksgiving ceremony and ends with a closing ritual that is more interesting, a beauty pageant contest for the selection of the new “Unduk Ngada”, the Harvest Festival Queen. It is also on this very day that they quench their thirst with “tapai”, a type of rice wine brewed specially for this festival. This festival will stretch up to two days, on the 30th and 31st of May.
Hari Gawai is a religious festival observed by the Iban and Bidayuh people in Sarawak. It is a festival that will span for 2 days each year starting on the first day of June, to mark the end of harvest season. On this day, a special fermented homemade drink, the “tuak” or rice wine will be served to anyone who drops by the longhouses there. Likewise, food and drinks are readily prepared including singing and the famous dance performance, the Ngajat Lesong dance. This performance will be demonstrated by the gents only as they will have to bite and lift the “lesung” or stone mortar that was used to pound the paddy and it weighs approximately 40 pounds.
When it comes to arts and culture, Malaysia has plenty to show you when the Colours of Malaysia festival begins colouring the month of May. This is a one day festival so make sure you are there to catch it live. The festival kick start with manifold colourful parades, synchronized marching bands, music and traditional choreograph dancing that surely displays the true blend of Malaysia’s culture and heritage. If you had ever wonder what a trishaw is, here in Malaysia is where you will see lighted three-wheeled vehicle with pedals that resembles the Christmas trees. In addition, there will be some street performances too.
One of the federal territories of Malaysia, Putrajaya, will bloom beautifully with ample of flowers during the Flower and Garden Festival that will take place at Anjung Florida, starting at the end of the month of May. Each year, flower of assorted kinds and gardens of different themes such as the Royal Garden Designer Gardens and Pinwheel Gardens will be exhibited and seasonal rare flowers such as the Malaysian orchids are up for purchase too. The Garden Bazaar and the Horticultural Market here are the paradise for gardeners. Name the items that you need from flower plants, gardening tools to landscaping services, they have everything ready here. This annual festival will culminate up to 9 days with more than 300 colourful activities awaits. Colourful activities that comprised of gardening workshops, entertainments, photography competition, arts watercolour painting competition and flower arrangement decorations. A small amount of entrance fee is required for entry into Anjung Florida for both adults and kids. Make sure you colour your trip with this beautiful eye-captivating floral festival.
The Dragon Boat Festival or the Duanwu Festival is an annual legendary festival that is held in Penang. Back then, the Dragon Boat races will be held in conjunction with this festival. Having said that, it has now been an annual official race in Penang, by which visitors from abroad can have a glimpse of the competition or even better if you are fond of water sports, partake as one of the racer on this day. You will be amazed by the designs of the boats.
June is a month for tourists to look forward too as there will be many festive events ongoing. If you happened to be in Melaka, by any means pay a visit to Portuguese Settlement to witness the annual festival of remembering the fishermen, in the San Pedro Festival. The Portuguese Settlement is occupied by the Portuguese people, successors to the Portuguese rulers during the past. The San Pedro festival falls on June 29 yearly, but the festival generally starts a week earlier, and its focus is hoping towards an abundant catch for the coming year, as fishing deals are the source of income of this community. It gets livelier at night with lots of music blasting fill the air and live band performances accompanied by the Branyo dance, the traditional cultural dance of the Portuguese people. The fishing boats will be embellished with drawings and paintings, along with statues contained in the Bible and nets that are full of living creatures captured via the sea.
The Rainforest World Music Festival is an extraordinary festival that unites world acclaimed musicians all over throughout mainlands and legend has it that the primitive musicians that occupy the island of Borneo will be playing too. In conjunction with this festival, three days of hands on experience that includes combination of various forms of multicultural musical lectures, jamming sessions, educational workshops, musical lectures and mini concerts. Evening stage performances are the favourite of audiences who came from near and far. This festival also out stands the rest because of the stunning backdrop of the legendary Mount Santubong in Sarawak. Be sure to catch the Rainforest World Music Festival with bustling astonishing awaits.
During the month of August, the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is also one of the Chinese’s belief in paying respect to the deceased, will be celebrated as the gates of hell will be opened on the first day of this month. A number of public rituals will be held and individual ceremonies accompanied by monks will take place too. All sorts of offerings that vary from food offerings to burnt offerings such as lighting up the incense and burning up the hell notes may be sacrificed. Candies and sugary snacks such as the top-coated sweet cookies, joss sticks, candles and hell notes will be seen scattered all over the place along the roads and corridors especially as an offering for the spirits that wander around. This festival lasts for a month. If you happened to be here, care is to be taken when walking along the streets to avoid damaging any offerings.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known to many as the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival. As the name implies, the two main highlight of this festival is obviously the mooncake and the lantern. On the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, the mooncake festival will be celebrated to mark the end of harvest and to express reverence to the moon. It is indispensable for the celebration to have mooncakes that are ordinarily filled with lotus paste and salted egg, to be circulated or be exchanged as a gift. For a good blend, the mooncakes are best served with plain Chinese tea. As of today, the mooncakes have been enhanced into snowskin outer layer on the outside and assorted toothsome flavours on the inside, such as the black sesame paste, green tea, yam and the list goes on. Children are the ones that enjoy the most during this festival as they are able to play with lighted up paper lanterns and fly some sky lanterns too. If you’re afraid to play with fire, get a battery-operated electronic lantern and join the fun. You may too see countless amount of colourful lanterns hanging along the streets and ensure that you have your camera on standby.
The whole month of October will be about presenting selected hotel chefs throughout Malaysia that will prepare superb menus for diners that comes with lavish servings. The Malaysia International Gourmet Festival (MIGF) would be serving specially designed dishes and are inviting food lovers to indulge into the finest cuisines that best showcases a truly Malaysian culture along with some cultural shows and handicrafts for souvenirs from selected states in Malaysia. To know which hotels will be participating, you may refer to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC) of Malaysia.
Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Aidiladha is another festival that is celebrated by the largest population in Malaysia, the Malays. This is a religious festival whereby its main objective is for Muslim followers to remember the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim in offering his son as a sacrificial subject, a compliance to Allah (God). This religious festival falls on the 10th day according to the Islamic month and it is also a celebration that marks the end of the hajj, for those who had completed their Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The festival begins by performing a korban ritual, in other words, offering sacrificial of a livestock, usually by slaughtering a cow. The meat is then distributed among Muslim devotees so that even the less fortunate ones can enjoy the sumptuous meat that lasts up to 4 days. This sacrificial ceremony will take place in Mecca, and also found in almost every mosque in Malaysia.
It is undeniable that Christmas is a much merry making festival that is celebrated on the 25th of December to honour the birth of Jesus Christ, once a year. Roast turkey is usually served as the main dish during family reunion on this festival. The night before Christmas is spiced up with Christmas caroling sessions conducted by the younger generations, hopping from house to house. In Malaysia, not only the Christians, but people from all walks of life share the joy of the Christmas atmosphere with ornamental displays that creates the Christmas spirit in shopping malls. Just in case if you were to drop by Melaka, head over to Portuguese Settlement. It will give you a bigger picture of what Christmas looked like in Malaysia.
You can find festivals in Malaysia in almost everywhere regardless of the states that you visit. Be it a religious festival or a celebratory one, the festivities here has help to create and foster a truly Malaysian culture, that makes Malaysia a melting pot for visitors to experience the diversity of culture here all year round.