Malaysia is a culturally diverse atmosphere, to be sure. The country’s population represents a distinct mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Javanese and several other ethnic groups. With so many rich heritages represented it’s no surprise to find that there are so many incredible festivals and activities happening throughout Malaysia year round. Make sure you time your trip to correspond with one of these fantastic celebrations.
9. Hari Raya Aidilfitri
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During the 10th month of the Muslim calendar, immediately following the month of fasting that represents Ramadan, the streets of Malaysia burst into activity as Muslims celebrate and honor the lives of those that have passed on before them. During Hari Raya Aidilfitri, houses are decorated with colorful adornments and each entrance is lit with a traditional lantern. During this time groups of people gather all around the country for prayers and fun family reunions.
The festival of Deepavali is a Hindu light festival celebrating – you guessed it – light. To be serious, in Hindu culture this festival is celebrated on the day that good forces defeated evil forces. Every home is decorated with small lights on the evening before the festival and Hindus gather in both their homes and temples to participate in prayer. The festivities the following day begin with a traditional bath in oil followed by more prayers and, finally, an open house to entertain family and friends.
The festival of Thaiponggol is another festival found on the traditional Hindu calendar. While Thaiponggol is considered to be a harvest festival it almost always occurs during the second week of January, where it is fixed on the Tamil calendar. During the festival, farmers rise before sunrise to cook some of their new grain and then present the grain, during a celebration known as Ponggol, to the sun when it rises at dawn. Urban families, despite their lack of farms, celebrate Thaiponggol as well. Most rise and dress in the dark, assemble around some fresh fruits and flowers, and then light lamps in celebration.
6. National Water Festival
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The water systems in Malaysia have played a huge role in the development of the country on both an economical and sociological level. The waterways have served as a means of communication, transportation, and – of course- as a resource for local farmers and early settlers. In the past, Malaysian families would make the local rivers their ultimate destination for recreational gatherings. During the National Water Festival, Malaysians from all over gather near the water to enjoy rice wine, games, and agricultural shows.
5. Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival takes place during the ninth moon of the Chinese lunar calendar. Specifically held on the ninth day of the moon, the festival celebrates the existence of nine different deities who are believed to live in the stars.
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is set in a carnival-type atmosphere in between prayers, temple visits, and vegetarian meals. At the end of the festival participants create a procession in which they take the Nine Emperor Gods back home.
Believe it or not, the Christian celebration of Christmas is widely observed throughout Malaysia as well. Christian households decorate with lights and festive adornments and, of course, include a Christmas tree as well. Malaysian citizens participate in midnight masses on Christmas Eve and continue the tradition of caroling as well. Most Christian households will hold open house events to entertain their families and friends.
3. Gawai Dayak
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The Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated by a smaller part of the population but is still a major part of the Dayak community. The Dayaks of Sarawak live in longhouses and celebrate the time between the end of the rice harvest and the new planting season for an entire week. The festival was designed to give thanks for not only a wonderful season of harvest but for the rest that they have earned before the next season begins.
2. Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival is relatively new compared to some of the other traditional festivals, having only been started in 1956. The festival started as a local event to celebrate the anniversary of the Municipality of George Town but has since evolved into an international affair with competitors from around the globe traveling to participate. You’ll see Dragon Boats from not only Malaysia but as far away as the USA, Britain, Norway, and Australia as well.
1. Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is perhaps one of the most important festivals celebrated anywhere in Asia. The festival itself lasts for a full two weeks – putting New Year’s celebrations in the West to shame. Local Chinese New Year festivals may vary but almost all include lion dances, decadent food and drink, and amazing displays of culture and entertainment. There are, of course, several religious activities including prayers and offerings to the Gods as well.
There’s always something spectacular to celebrate in Malaysia, oten within a reasonable distance of your hotel in Malaysia. Open your eyes and look around and you’re bound to find an incredible cultural activity or celebration to explore!