Malaysia is a land of diversity in its people and their respective cultures, and it is this richly varied society that plays host to a wonderful cross-section of vibrant festivals. Its demographic data reveals that its population comprises of 62% native people called Bumiputeras, 24% Chinese, 8% Indians, and various other, smaller minorities and expats. Islam is the pre-dominantly followed religion in Malaysia but Malay culture also shows strong influences from Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism. The diversity of festivals celebrated in Malaysia reveals plurality in culture owing to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious population of the country.
New Year's Day is a National Public Holiday in Malaysia and is usually celebrated with fervor by the urban community throughout Malaysia. There are lively parties, sporting events, exhibitions, competitions and cultural performances on the occasion.
Thaipusam is celebrated across Malaysia by Malaysian Hindus following the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is marked as a day for atonement and is time for Hindu devotees to pray to Lord Muruga, also known as Lord Subramaniam. Religious enthusiasts display devotion during the festival by carrying kavadis up the hill to the Batu Caves in Selangor. Kavadi is a frame decorated with fresh flowers, colored papers, and fruits as a form of sacrament.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri Hari Raya Puasa is celebrated on the first day of the Muslim month of Syawal and is determined by the sighting of the new moon. It culminates the pious month of Ramadhan - the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The morning prayers at mosques are followed by visits to the graves of family members and later parties in the evening for friends and relatives. Plenty of traditional Malay delicacies are served on the occasion of these parties. This tradition is referred to as, 'open houses'. The enthusiasm is greater on the first three days and celebrations continue for as long as a month marked by decoration and lighting on government buildings and monuments.
Chinese New Year, the most significant festival of the Chinese community in Malaysia, is celebrated for over 15 days, starting from the first day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Each year is denoted by one of the 12 animals as depicted by the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese New Year is marked by the color red and it is displayed vividly as mark of 'prosperity' and 'luck' in all homes. Family gatherings, consumption of delicacies especially the mandarin orange (the symbol of prosperity), fire crackers at midnight, distribution of Ang Pows (red packets with money) to singles are the traditions followed on this auspicious day. Offerings are also made to please gods and spirits. The traditional lion dance is performed on the occasion of Chinese New Year too, amidst the banging of drums and gongs.
Wesak Day is celebrated by Buddhists around May and is marked by three events in Buddha's life. Wesak Day is the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment, and attainment of Nirvana. The devotees gather at the temples to meditate on the Eight Precepts, which is followed by 'Bathing the Buddha' ceremony. Donations, offerings of flowers, releasing of pigeons, ordination of monks, chanting and praying are all significant parts of the Wesak celebration in temples. At night, processions parade the streets.
Gawai Dayak is celebrated on the 1st of June in Sarawak. This is actually a form of thanksgiving to the gods for a good harvest celebrated by Dayaks, a Sarwak community. Homes are cleaned thoroughly and ancestor’s graves are attended to. There are parties, games, processions, singing, dancing and drinking of tuak and rice wine etc. A family dinner reunion is made special by the tradition in which the youngest family member offers foods that are specially prepared to the parents. To ensure a good harvest the following season, livestock is also sacrificed. Tadau Kaamatan is another harvest festival celebrated by the Kadazan, Dusun and Murut tribes of Sabah in May.
Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by Buddhists and Taoists on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, in which Chinese families burn houses made from paper so that their relatives who have passed away can live contentedly in the other world. Ceremonies of religious nature are held at temples on this occasion.
The Lantern & Mooncake Festival or Tang Lung symbolises a simple celebration of shared prosperity and peace. Malaysians celebrate this festival by hanging colorful lanterns on their houses and enjoying different types of mooncakes. Mooncakes are rounded pastries that are filled with either salted egg yolk, lotus nut paste or sweet red bean paste. There are lantern processions also.
Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated in Malaysia by the Hindu community on the 7th month of the Hindu calendar. Deepavali is the celebration of good over evil. People take oil baths, don new clothes and visit temples. Homes are lit with vikku or oil lamps. Hindus celebrate and feast plenty on the occasion.
Christmas is also celebrated in Malaysia and is marked by decorating Christmas trees in houses, attending church services and caroling. Open Houses ceremonies at Christian homes are also commonplace. Roasted turkey, vegtables and drinks are served at Christmas parties. With the burgeoning expat community coupled with European descendants, Christmas has a growing an ever-expanding presence in Malaysia.
Pesta Kaamatan, Regatta Lepa Semporna, Pesta Jagung, Pesta Rumbia (Sago Festival) and Pesta Kelapa among other festivals are also celebrated by the various communities of Malaysia.
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