Festivals in Malaysia

Understanding local traditions

Festivals in Malaysia

Malaysia is known for its historical buildings, its cobblestone streets, and its beautiful mountains. But when expats come here to live for the first time they are always amazed by the number of festivals that are celebrated each year. 

Malaysia is amongst the top ranking countries per number of festivals celebrated year round. With cultures ranging from Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian, one can understand why so many festivals are celebrated.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Muslims spend a month fasting, during what is called the month of Ramadan. During the first 3 days following the month of Ramadan, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is celebrated. This joyous day is celebrated with many different dishes shared by friends and family while remembering their departed loved ones. Malaysian homes are lit up with traditional lamps on their doors as well.

Chinese New Year

The most important festival for the Chinese culture, the Chinese New Year, is celebrated with a traditional family dinner where people gather to share a variety of dishes and drinks. The Chinese New Year usually takes place in the January-February time frame. It is one of the longest celebrated festivals in Malaysia - celebrated over a period of 15 days. Ang pows or gifts of money in red envelopes are given by the elderly and married couples to children and younger unmarried adults. Shortly after the sounds of dancing lions, firecrackers and clashing symbols fill the street as the Chinese New Year parades begin.


Deepavali (or Diwali) is the Hindu festival of light and occurs sometime between mid-October and mid-December (depending on the Hindu lunar-solar calendar). It is celebrated by hanging clay lights called vikku on the homes of Hindus, signifying their victory over darkness. In the morning Hindus will take a traditional bath with oils followed by prayers with their family and friends. In the evening, people will celebrate by sharing different dishes and entertaining guests in their houses.


The birth of Christ is an important time for all religions in Malaysia and is celebrated on the 25th of December. In Malaysia, Christmas is celebrated similarly to other countries. People decorate their houses with colorful lights and Christmas ornaments, and of course every house has a well decorated Christmas tree. The sounds of Christmas carolers can be heard throughout the streets. Family and friends gather to celebrate the occasion and later exchange gifts. Churches and temples hold midnight services to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Thai Pongal

Thai Pongal is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. It is usually celebrated between the 12th and the 15th of January. This is a day of thanksgiving among all Malaysians. They give thanks to the “nature spirit”, the sun, and the animals for providing a successful harvest. The day is celebrated with the gathering of family and friends and the sharing of various dishes made from grains and rice.

Hungry Ghost Festival

Celebrated by the Buddhists and Taoists, this festival falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month which usually occurs in August. This festival is held to remember the dead and it is believed that on this day the gates of hell open to release the hungry ghosts. The smell of incense fills the air while people present their offerings in the form of prayer. During the evening they burn “hell money” or fake money notes which are believed to translate into great fortune in the afterlife.

National Water Festival

This festival is celebrated in April and occurs over a period of 3 days. It is known to the locals as songkran and is the celebration of water. During the day, friends and family fill the streets and have an all out water battles using water guns, buckets of water, or whatever they can get their hands on to splash water. In the evening there are many traditional cultural events and performances that people attend throughout Malaysia .

Gawai Dayak

Gawai Dayak is celebrated on June 1st by the Dayaks in Sarawak. It is a celebration of thanksgiving for their harvest and planning for the new plantation. It is a festive time for the Dayaks, celebrated by opening their houses to family and friends for food and drinks. During the evening dinner, a special plate is prepared and is offered to the parents by the youngest member of the family. Later singing and dancing can be heard throughout the night while people celebrate and drink tuak - traditional rice wine.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

This is a religious festival that is celebrated over a period of 9 days on the eve of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar which usually falls in the late September early October time. On this day the spirits of the nine emperors are welcomed to come down from heaven to Earth. Malaysians will celebrate by following a strict vegetarian diet to cleanse the body. The sounds of processions, chanting of prayers, and prayer bells can be heard throughout the night.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: