Malaysia Festivals – Let your holiday coincide with local festivals.
Malaysia is a land of diversity – this diversity extends to our celebrations, the Malaysia Festivals.
Plan your holidays to coincide with local festivals, join the locals, and experience an essential part of any celebration.
Each festival is unique from the other.
While the most colourful Malaysian festivals are community-based events centred on New Year celebrations, there are many religious festivals full of history, tradition, and authentic culture.
You can join fellow Malaysians in their celebrations, which are linked to family get-togethers.
There is an abundance of food, meals, sweets, shopping, and decoration that you will enjoy.
You get to meet the locals and mingle with them.
The best part about celebrating these local festivals in Malaysia is you get an insight into the way of life and the customs Malaysians follow.
We’ve put together the main festivals, which are also public holidays in Malaysia.
You will find travelling to the region and each state more fruitful as you join in the thrills and local activities.
Selamat Datang ke Malaysia.
List of Malaysia Festivals by Month
There’s always something going on in Malaysia every month. You can see month by month all the major festivals and activities planned for the year.
Some of my American friends have remarked that Malaysians seem to have their holidays every month.
During Ramadan’s fasting month, there are so many Bazaar Ramadhan around they are spoilt to choose the best halal food.
Here are 12 of Malaysia’s best festivals, including the most famous religious festivals like Eid, Thaipusam, Wesak Day, and the Harvest Festivals (Sabah and Sarawak).
Foreigners are usually welcome to observe religious festivals in Malaysia. If you can plan your holidays in Malaysia to coincide with the celebrations, you will have a chance to experience something entirely different for your vacation.
What will you experience for a Malaysia festival?
West and East Malaysia often have different cultural activities and various religious festivals.
There are two categories of events; religious and cultural.
Religious festivals include Eid, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, and Christmas. in the West, Christmas dinner celebration with a roast turkey, meats, cakes, and giving presents.
In Malaysia, we celebrate with open houses, barbeques, and a hearty Malaysian buffet, including curries, satay, local hawker food, and rojak.
Malaysians may lack gift-giving and present, but most make up for this with food hampers, gifts of alcohol, and even fruits.
Many festivals in Malaysia are neither religious nor cultural-based.
Other festivals involve prayers at the mosque or temple.
Most celebrations have open houses where the host puts on a spread of food and invites family and friends.
In short, a Malaysian festival will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.
When is the best time to visit Malaysia Festivals?
Malaysia’s sunny tropical climate does not have seasonal spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The best season to visit is when it is cold in your home country to enjoy Malaysia’s warm sunny days.
Some of the East Coast beaches and islands have a low season and are closed during the northeast monsoon (November to February). Other beaches elsewhere in the country are pleasant and enjoyable throughout the year.
If you plan a trip to Malaysia during the festivities or Malaysian school holidays, it is always sensible to check ahead for your proposed dates to travel.
Even if you don’t want to participate in the events – Hotel room bookings and air tickets might be full, unavailability, or at a higher price.
School holidays are according to the Ministry of Education and affect hotel prices and availability.
Malaysia Festival – Gawai Harvest Festival
The country has a vibrant melting pot of religious groups, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, hundreds of different ethnic groups, celebrating multiple events each month.
Sabah and Sarawak have their festivals rooted in pagan traditions such as the annual Hari Gawai or Harvest Festival – Before the arrival of mainstream religion, indigenous tribes practised paganism. Many ethnic groups preserve their traditions with the festivals today. And while life may not involve ancient rituals, it’s still an essential part of their culture.
Malaysia Festival – Thaipusam
In Malaysia, the Hindus celebrate Thaipusam, which commemorates Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War, defeating an evil spirit called Soorapadman.
Thaipusam is the most unusual, unique, and memorable celebration by the Indian community.
During this festival, you’ll see devotees pierce parts of their body, cheeks, and tongue. They can be gruesomeness to many who see piercing for the first time.
Some carry a Kavadi – a ceremonial sacrifice and offering. Devotees practice this burden during the worship of Lord Murugan.
For a more visual idea of what this festival entails and if it’s something, you’d want to witness, check out pictures and videos online first.
In Malaysia, Thaipusam takes place annually at Batu Caves on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Batu Caves has a Hindu temple inside a limestone cave. Visitors need to walk up 272 steps to reach the temple.
Malaysia Festival – Chinese New Year (February)
Chinese New Year is the largest Chinese Festival in Malaysia celebrated on a large scale. Red is the colour of good luck in Chinese culture.
You will see the most prominent colour is “red,” from red lanterns, red envelopes, red clothes, and banners. Shopping Malls, Chinese temples, streets, and public spaces have red lights for decoration.
During the event, you’ll see lion and dragon dances around the city. There are promising lion dance troops in costumes to perform ritualist dances for good luck.
The Chinese community will have the dances performed at their homes, shops, businesses. There are lion and dragon dances, performances, and traditional music in public ceremonies for visitors to enjoy in George Town.
Firecrackers set off to chase evil spirits away.
Traditionally the elders will give children and singles an ‘ang pow,’ a red packet filled with lucky money.
During this festival, the most popular fruit is the Mandarin oranges, which signify “gold” and abundance.
You will find this in every home, and it is considered lucky to give or receive a Mandarin orange.
The 15th-day celebration concludes with the Lantern Festival, where the Taoist will attend temples in the evenings carrying paper lanterns.
Malaysia Festival – Wesak Day (May)
Wesak Day is a holiday traditionally observed by Buddhists to commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddhists around the country will go to the temple and attend a service.
Penang and Kuala Lumpur have a sizeable Buddhist community and celebrate the processions filled with flowers and candles.
Festivities begin at the temple with devoted monks dressed in saffron robes meditating and chanting while burning incense and making prayers.
At the Malaysian Buddhist Association, devotees queued patiently to take turns to bathe the Buddha statue – a special ritual representing the purification and cleansing of one’s soul.
The Devotees light the lotus-shaped candles and seek Buddha’s blessings.
Well-wishers and devotees come together to dine on simple offerings of vegetarian food and drinks after prayers.
If you’re in Malaysia towards the end of May, you can head to one of the temples and watch the celebration.
Malaysia Festival – Kaamatan Harvest Festival in Sabah
Sabah’s most significant cultural event, the Kaamatan Harvest Festival, occurs annually on the 30th and 31st of May.
The Harvest Festival is an ancient pagan celebration to thanks for a bountiful rice harvest by the ethnic Kadazan-Dusun.
The festival has its roots traced to animistic beliefs formerly practised by the communities.
Today, however, there’s more emphasis on the social side of things with parties in the villages that last throughout the day.
The festivals have the entire community enjoying lots of food, singing, dancing, music, and drinking to usher in the new farming season.
The harvest festival is the best time to try traditional cuisines. You will find butod (fat wriggly sago grub), rich in protein, nutritious, and taste like cheesecake.
Still, it is a test of bravery! Would you date to put one live, wriggling bug into your mouth!
Malaysia Festival – Hari Gawai Harvest Festival, Sarawak (1st and 2nd June)
Gawai means ritual or festival.
Many Sarawakians live in the interiors where rice-growing is still a significant source of income.
Hari Gawai is an extended thanksgiving celebration for the hard work that goes into rice harvesting and rest in June before the next planting season in September.
The Gawai Dayak festival is officially celebrated on 1 June in Sarawak, both as a religious and social festival.
The tribes of Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Murut, and others are collectively known as Dayak.
Malaysians treasure strong family ties; for the Dayak community, it is a time of family reunions, paying respects to the elderly, making amends for past differences, and rekindling old friendships.
Tuak, a traditional alcoholic drink, is brewed from glutinous rice mixed with homemade yeast.
During Gawai, YOu could visit different longhouses to drink tuak and to celebrate with the locals!
Gawai Dayak is one of the best times to visit Sarawak and experience Malaysia’s colourful festivities and diverse cultures.
For visitors to Sarawak, you’re almost guaranteed to get an invitation to come along if you have a local contact.
Malaysia Festival – Eid (Hari Raya Aidilfitri, June)
Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Eid is the largest celebration in the Islamic world. Before Eid, Muslims around the world fast for a month during Ramadan.
Fasting involves not eating, drinking, and smoking from sunrise to sunset.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the biggest festival in Malaysia. Every year Raya’s exodus called “Balik Kampung” has Malaysians from cities return to their hometowns for the festivities.
On Hari Raya day, Muslims go to the mosque in the morning for prayers before returning home to celebrate with an open house.
Typical food includes Rendang (meat), Satay (Malaysian kebabs), and Ketupat (sticky rice in a woven palm leaf pouch), a large variety of biscuits and sweets.
Hari Raya doesn’t have a fixed date each year. Instead, religious experts determine the time based on the sighting of the lunar Hijri month.
Malaysia Festival – Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching, Sarawak (mid-July)
The Rainforest World Music Festival has worldwide recognition and attracts local and foreign tourists for live music and performances.
International musicians descend on Sarawak’s capital to perform in this three-day live music and performance.
Music genres include modern styles mixed with traditional instruments to create a hypnotic fusion of sound.
Sarawak Cultural Village, a unique award-winning living museum, offers an excellent introduction to local cultures and lifestyles. The centre hosts the event and has workshops, crafts, and food too.
Malaysia Festival – George Town World Heritage City Day (7 July)
Penang state annual celebrations of the George Town World Heritage Day – the day of George Town, together with Melaka, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
The day allows Penang citizens and visitors to gain an in-depth insight into the rich culture and heritage of George Town to preserve the heritage city.
The weekend highlights the ways traditional communities of Penang celebrate births, weddings holy days in harmonious coexistence despite differences in ethnicity, religious beliefs, and culture.
The organizers also arranged site excursions to educate visitors about each site’s history, culture, and traditions.
Local communities showcase handicrafts, run workshops, demonstrations, cultural performances, and games.
The performances range from Teochew opera, Indian dance, Japanese folk songs, and Malay royal gamelan shows to rock n’ roll from the Eurasian community and a Capella choral music by the Voices of the Penang Philharmonic.
Malaysia Festival – Independence Day/ National Day (31 August)
On 31 August 1957, Malaysia declared its independence from the British and formed the Federation of Malaya.
Hari Kebangsaan (National Day) is the official independence day of Malaysia after an extended colonial rule.
Malaysia, at that time, was known as Malaya, finally gained sovereignty.
The day is marked as the clock strikes midnight on 31 August. A firework display fills the Kuala Lumpur sky with colour to start Independence Day.
You will see parades in the streets and performances by school children and civil servants in the morning.
After the ceremony, thousands of locals head to the venues to enjoy live concerts.
If you haven’t experienced Malaysian’s National Day celebrations, head down to Kuala Lumpur and follow the crowds to join in the festivities.
Malaysia Festival – Deepavali (November)
Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights and symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”
Deepavali, or the ‘Festival of Light,’ is the most colourful in Malaysia. Local Hindus make beautiful, intricate, colourful Kolam designs at their home entrance with coloured chalk and scattering coloured rice.
All races and religions are welcome to join in the event, resulting in people’s houses or public areas such as the mall.
If you’re in Malaysia during Deepavali, you will enjoy shopping to buy textiles, saris, and festive sweets for Deepavali.
There are a lot of Indian goodies like and a variety of snacks on sale in the streets.
Little India, near KL Sentral, in Kuala Lumpur, and George Town, Penang, will be full of colour and activities at all times of the day and will be well worth checking out.
Malaysia Festival – The Dragon Boat Festival (December)
The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival is an exciting event with Malaysian and International rowers in colourful traditional boats competing against each other.
You will feel the excitement as rowers took their positions and started rowing to the drum’s steady beat.
This annual two-day festival is a favourite for locals and tourists.
The event is from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at Penang Teluk Bahang Dam, located 18 kilometres from George Town.
There’s also lots of local food on sale and side performances to entertain the crowd if you get the chance to attend.
SCHOOL HOLIDAYS CALENDAR FOR 2020
For schools in Perlis, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Pahang, Sabah, Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya
Term 1 Holidays: Sat 14 Mar – Sun 22 Mar 20
Mid-year Holidays: Sat 23 May – Sun 7 Jun 20
Term 2 Holidays: Sat 25 Jul – Sun 2 Aug 20
End-year Holidays: Sat 21 Nov – Thu 31 Dec 20
NB Schools in Johor, Kedah, Kelantan & Terengganu begin and end a day earlier.
Source: Education Ministry (www.moe.gov.my)
Whatever time of the year you’re visiting Malaysia, there’s probably going to be some religious or cultural festival you can attend.
Malaysia’s multiculturalism and diversity in their ethnic groups and religion create a lot of events and celebrations.
If you’re looking for a cultural experience and want to enjoy local traditions – head to Malaysia for one of the many festivals to enhance your travel experience.