The spirit of Christmas is felt very much in Malaysia, especially in hotels, department stores and homes of Christians. Christmas trees, decorations, brilliant lights, Santa Claus and carols add to the festive air. Experienced among a host of other religious holidays, Christmas takes on new meanings.
As in many other countries throughout the world, New Year's Eve is celebrated with much merrymaking at public squares, hotels and restaurants. The Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur is particularly a good place to join in revelers, who gather at the square to usher in the new year.
Hari Raya Puasa is a celebration marking the end of a Muslim month of fasting and abstinence, Ramadan. It is a special occasion for Muslims; even the daily prayers are changed for one day. Hari Raya Puasa officially begins at the sighting of the moon on the day before the next month on the Muslim calendar, Syawal. The first moon of the month of Syawal is sighted by religious elders in the late evening from several vantage points in Malaysia. The festival actually begins the following day, ushered in by prayers at the mosque early in the morning, and a visit to the cemetery to pray for the departed souls of loved ones. Then, of course, comes the feast.
Thaipusam, a day of consecration to the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan, sometimes also called Lord Subramaniam. A feature of the festival is the carrying of a kavadi, a frame decorated with colored papers, tinsels, fresh flowers, and fruits as a form of penance. In Kuala Lumpur, Hindus carrying the kavadi make the annual pilgrimage to the Batu Caves in Selangor, where the kavadi is carried up the 272 steps to the entrance of the great cave and deposited at the feet of the deity.
On the eve of Thaipusam, the grounds of Batu Caves are transformed into a fairyland of lights. Kavadi-carrying begins after sunset. Devotees and penitents carry Kavadis, which are gaily decorated wooden or steel paraphernalia. Some have entered a trance, and pierced their cheeks, tongues, or foreheads. The next day they will return to their ordinary lives, cleansed. Open-door observers of the kavadi do not have to participate in this ritual unless they really, really want to. Apart from the mortification of flesh, other forms of devotion are practiced, such as honey or milk offerings.
To the Chinese, the most important festival is Chinese New Year, which falls in either January or February. It is ushered in with the lighting of fire crackers at midnight on the eve of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
The colorful spectacle of Chinese New Year is evident long before the day of celebration itself. Eager crowds of shoppers can be seen searching for all kinds of seasonal delicacies: oranges for good luck, flowers and kumquat trees to beautify their homes. All debts must be settled and the house spotlessly cleaned before the new year begins.
On the even of the New Year, family relationships are remembered with a special reunion dinner to usher in the New Year. Younger members of the family visit their relatives, receiving red packets of lucky money (ang paus) while feasting and merrymaking.
The Chingay parade adds to the festive atmosphere with stilt walkers, lion and dragon dances, acrobats, and dozens of decorated floats taking to the streets amidst the clashing of cymbals and beating of gongs and drums. Penang is the place to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
This is the most important day of the Buddhist Calendar as it marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Buddhist devotees will gather in temples throughout the country to release doves and to offer prayers. Wesak is also an occasion to offer alms to monks and give free meals to the needy.
Kaamatan Festival in Sabah (May l -31)
The Kaamatan or Harvest Festival is celebrated by the Kadazans / Dusuns in thanks for a bountiful harvest. Highlights include a beauty pageant, cultural dances and rituals culminating in the thanksgiving ceremony performed by the Bobohizan or high priestess.
Gawai Festival in Sarawak (end May or early June)
The Ibans and Bidayuhs of Sarawak celebrate the end of padi harvesting season with much merry-making, dancing and the drinking of tuak, a potent rice wine. A fascinating Gawai dance is the Ngajat Lesong. A dancer displays his strength and skill by lifting the lesong (the mortar where padi is pounded) with his teeth.
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.
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.
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.
The Chinese Mooncake Festival celebrates the overthrow of the Mongols during the end of the Yuan Dynasty (120G- 1341 AD) in China. It falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon (August/September). The festival is celebrated with colorful lantern processions on the night of the festival.
The other specialty of the festival is the Mooncake itself. These cakes are rich, round pastries filled with a mixture of sweet red bean paste, lotus nut paste, or salted egg yolk. It is said that secret messages of revolt carried inside these cakes led to the uprising which deposed the Mongol Dynasty.
Deepavali or The Festival of Lights" is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu calendar. Hindus celebrate it by adorning their homes with dozens of lights or oil lamps, called vikku, to signify the triumph of good over evil, and thus light over darkness. It is a day of festive joy and Malaysians visit their friends of Hindu faith to extend good wishes and to partake in the feasting and jollity.
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