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Home | Malaysia | Maylaysia Overview | Holidays

Anyone visiting Malaysia for the first time would not cease to be amazed by the number of festivals and events that are happening the whole year around. Malaysia, with its mix of ethnic races which include Malays, descendants of the Bugis and Javanese, Chinese, Indian and others, features a colourful potpourri of cultural traditions. Many of these traditions are expressed through the festivals that take place the whole year round.

Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given below are approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan), Muslims fast during the day and feast at night and normal business patterns may be interrupted. Some disruption may continue into Hari Raya Puasa itself. Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Qurban (Feast of Sacrifice) may last up to several days, depending on the region.

Buddhist festivals are declared according to local astronomical observations and it is not possible to forecast the date of their occurrence exactly.
Here are some typical holidays and festivals in Malaysia:

New Year’s Day ( 1 Jan)
1 January , the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar.
Chinese New Year ( Chinese festival)
This is the most important festival of the Chinese community and it lasts for a full two weeks! It begins with a reunion dinner which is traditional for every member of the family to attend. Chinese New Year is the time when spirits are appeared and offerings are made to Gods. It is a boisterous festival with the clang of cymbals accompanying lion dances and the thunder of fire crackles filling the air. Guests are entertained to a variety of sumptuous food and drinks and the unmarried youngsters are given Ang Pows - gifts of money enclosed in little red packets. Major hotels and shopping complexes celebrate the occasion by holding lion dances and special Chinese programmers to entertain their clients.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri ( Muslim festival)
After a month of fasting during the month of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the first day of Syawal which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar with joyous enthusiasm. This is a major festival for Muslims and they usher in the day with prayers in mosques and remembering their departed loved ones. It is also the time for family reunion when members of the family from different parts of the country get together. The festival mood is with joyous enthusiasm. Special festival dishes are served for festivals and friends during "open house". The festival mood is reflected is brightly decorated homes, government and commercial buildings. Homes are also lit with all lamps at the entrance in keeping with a long established tradition.

Deepavali ( Hindu festival)
This is a Hindu festival of light. Homes of Hindus are lit with little lights to signify the victory over darkness for the Hindus believe that this is the day when the forces of good overcame the forces of evil. Deepavali is a major festival of the Hindus and on the eve prayers are held both at home and in the temples.Hindus take a traditional oil bath in the early hours of the morning on Deepavali day and after prayers entertain their friends and guests to "open house.

Christmas ( 25 December)
The birth of Christ is celebrated by Christians in Malaysia in the true traditional style. Most Christians homes are decorated with festoon and coloured lights and the Christmas tree is a must! Young Christians go carolling days before Christmas day to usher in the Yuletide spirit. Churches hold midnight masses on the eve of Christmas. The festival is celebrated on a national scale in Malaysia and Christians hold "open house" to entertain their friends and colleagues.

Thaiponggol ( Hindu festival)
In Malaysia, Thaiponggol is a harvest festival celebrated out of season because it is fixed in the Hindu calendar. Tamils celebrate this festival around the second week of January. While it is still dark, farmers rise and cook some of the newly harvested grain. Ponggol is the presentation of the cooked harvested grain to the sun at dawn.

However, for urban families, this ritual has been adapted to their own living conditions. Here the family rises, bathes and gets dressed before dawn. This is done without the use of any form of light. When everyone is ready, wearing their best clothes, they assemble around a display of fruits and flowers. Only then are lamps lit.

Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
The Penang's first Dragon Boat Race was held in 1956 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Municipality of George Town. 10 years later the race was revived as part of the Pesta Pulau Pinang. The Pesta races was originally confined to participation from the local teams such as teams from Government Department, associations and commercial establishments. However, in 1979, the boat festival became an international tourism carnival with 2 participation from overseas, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival has participating teams all over the world include Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Macau, Thailand, Japan, Britain, West Germany, USA and others.

National Water Festival
Water resource plays an important role in the socio-cultural and economic development of the Malaysian society. Apart from functioning as a communication system, an economic, resource and determinant of early settlement pattern of the Malaysian society, it had also been a place where families carried out their recreational activities in the past. Therefore, water resource in whatever form should be protected, valued and utilized to the maximum.

The fun gets merrier with the drinking of the inevitable tapai which is an alcoholic drink made from rice wine. Apart from these, there are also organised agriculture shows, buffalo races, cultural performances and traditional games as part and parcel of the festive celebrations.

Gawai Dayak ( 1st June every year in Sarawak and west Kalamatan)
The Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated by the Dayaks of Sarawak who live in longhouses. Being one of the major festivals of the community, it is celebrated on a grand scale and lasts for a week. The Gawai Dayak festival marks the transitional period between the season of rice harvesting and the new planting season. Hence, it is a reason of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest and also a time to rest from work before the new planting season. The sound of boisterous laughter, convivial talk, drinking, dancing and merry-making will echo relentlessly all through the days of this exotic and colourful festival.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the Chinese lunar calendar. Devotees flock to the temples throughout the country for this religious festival. The Nine Emperor Gods are part of a spirit-medium cult known locally as ‘Jieu Hwang Yeh’. These Nine Deities are believed to dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign of ‘Thien Hou’ - the Queen of Heaven.

A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, take vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. A procession to send the Nine Emperor Gods home then takes place to complete the rites of this religious festival.

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