Malaysia's multicultural community lends colour to the calendar, with bright festivals peppering the year for both locals and visitors to observe and enjoy.

Hari Raya, or Eid-Ul-Fitr, is celebrated by Malaysian Muslims every year. Hari Raya marks the end of a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan. The first day of Hari Raya starts early at the mosque with prayers, followed by visits to the graves of loved ones. Many Muslim families open up their homes to celebrate the occasion, with a bounty of good food.

The Chinese usher in the Lunar New Year with bright red colours and fireworks. The loud sounds are meant to ward off bad luck for the rest of the year. Lion dances and occasionally dragon dances are performed during this period, so do enquire about these if you plan to visit during this time.

The brightness does not fade through the year, as Malaysian Hindus celebrate the Festival of Lights, Deepavali. The occasion celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Clay lamps are kept lit at homes of Hindus throughout the festival. The lamps are said to help the goddess Lakshmi find her way into celebrants’ homes.

A much-photographed event is Thaipusam. On this day, Tamil Hindus head to the closest Murugan temple, the most popular being Batu Caves Temple in Selangor. The sight of devotees carrying ‘kavadis’ as a form of penance, falling into trances, piercing themselves or walking on hot coals without hurting from it, is definitely an experience not for the faint-hearted.

Other festivals celebrated in Malaysia are Wesak Day by the Buddhists, the Hungry Ghost Festival by the Chinese and Christmas Day by Christians. In East Malaysia, the Harvest Festival, also known as Kaamatan, is widely observed especially in Sabah, while ‘Hari Gawai’ is celebrated by the Dayaks or Ibans of Sarawak.

Not a religious festival, but a major tourist attraction on its own, is the annual Rainforest World Music Festival held in Kuching, Sarawak. Surrounded by lush rainforest and the sounds of nature, music revellers come together to rock out to the rhythm from the world’s different regions.

Key Tips

  • Check out the Calendar of Events to see what festivals and celebrations will be on during your visit. Do take note that some tourist attractions may be closed during major public holidays.

  • Make your hotel and travel bookings well in advance for popular destinations for certain festivals, e.g. Penang during Chinese New Year or Kuching for the Rainforest World Music Festival.