Festivals, Celebrations and Events in Malaysia (July to December)
Malaysia is sandwiched between top tourist destinations, Thailand and Singapore, and is sometimes off the radar screen of most travelers. However, this multi-ethnic and multi-cultural tropical gem has so much to offer and is waiting to be explored and experienced.
The diversities of its people alone, with many cultural and religious believes, create an interesting calendars of event throughout the year. These are events and festivals that you must see and experience.
So come with me on this discovery tour of our country's many festivals, celebrations, and events. With a bit of luck, it will spur you to take that trip of a lifetime and visit Malaysia.
This article is a continuation to my earlier piece on Festivals, Celebrations, and Events in Malaysia for months of January until June. This article will now feature events for the second half of the year. If you came directly to this page, here is the link to my earlier piece for 'the first half of the year'
Where is Malaysia?
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in July
Melaka, UNESCO World Heritage City Celebration
July’s weather is hot and humid, but with the occasional downpours will bring relief to the humidity factor. Hence, it is not too bad to be out and about on the discovery tour.
Our first trip is to Melaka, Malaysia's historic city. It is one of the most visited city in Malaysia and is due to its rich historical heritage.
Centuries ago, Melaka was the most prosperous part of the country. It was the busiest trading post and with its strategic location, attracted many traders and invaders!
First came the Portuguese who successfully invaded in the 15th century and they ruled Melaka for more than a hundred years. Then, in the early 16th century, the Dutch wrested control from the Portuguese and stayed for almost 200 years. Then, it was the British’s turn, who stayed on and finally gave us independence in 1957.
Along with them came their lifestyles, architectures, and foods. Hence, you will see churches, squares, government buildings and other artifacts that reminded us of their presence.
The state of Melaka is, therefore, rich with these heritage sites and on July 7th, 2008, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage City.
To commemorate and celebrate this historic event, the state held annual festivals with several cultural events to showcase its rich cultures and heritage.
Bon Odori Festival
Although the Japanese invaded and forced the British to retreat the country during the Second World War, Bon Odori Festival is not related to this event at all.
It is in fact a dance style to honor the spirits and the sacrifices made by the ancestors, following the Japanese Buddhist customs and traditions.
However, in Malaysia it is celebrated more on the Japanese culture rather than on Buddhism.
Bon Odori in Malaysia is a Japanese festival held by the Japanese expatriate communities, but is now participated by a majority of Malaysians.
Held every year in the state of Selangor, Penang, and Sabah, the festival let you experience Japanese culture through its varied drinks, food, art, and dance. There are also booths of many Japanese companies in Malaysia displaying their products for promotion as well as for sale.
Bon Odori in Selangor is very popular and has become one of the largest Bon Odori celebrations outside Japan.
Moving on to another religious event is the fasting month for the Muslims.
In the month of Ramadan, Muslims will begin their fasting, observing one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Fasting will start from dawn until sunset, every day during the month of Ramadan. Fasting means refraining from eating, drinking, and from other worldly desires such as smoking and sexual relations. It is a month of tolerance, charity, and spiritual reflection.
Iftar or the breaking of fast is a simple event with dates and fruits as the first food to break the fast and food should be eaten in moderation.
If you are weak spiritually, this may not be the case. After going hungry during the daylight hours, you start to imagine having all kinds of foods and drinks. Your cravings get worse by the day!
Hence, during the month of Ramadan there will be many stalls and bazaars sprouting all over the city selling many varieties of Malay delicacies, to cater to these cravings!
Streets will be closed from 4 pm onward in certain parts of the city, for this month long Ramadan Bazaar. At peak hours between 4 pm until 6 pm, the place is packed with people browsing through these colorful bazaars to pick and choose foods that satisfy their cravings for that day! Even the non-Muslims will join in and shop for these delicacies. Tourists will be busy taking photographs and wondering if they should try some of these foods.
Port Dickson International Triathlon
If you are fasting, entering the triathlon will not be easy.
This annual triathlon race will challenge your swimming, cycling and running endurance and stamina. It is held in the seaside town of Port Dickson, which is about two hour drive south of Kuala Lumpur.
You can choose from several categories that cover different distances to cater for competitors of different age groups and of different levels of experience and fitness.
Its two main categories are the Sprint Triathlon that includes 0.5 miles swim, 12.5 mile cycle and 3 mile run, and the Triathlon Challenge that includes 1 mile swim, 1.2 mile beach run, 28 mile cycle, and 5.3 mile run.
It may sounds easy, but under the hot and humid weather at Port Dickson, it can be tiring and challenging.
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in August
Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Eid al-Fitr
After one month of fasting and spiritual cleansing, it is time to take a break and celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
This is an important religious holiday as it marks the end of Ramadan. On this day, Malaysian Muslims will perform the morning Eid prayer at the mosque, which is followed by a sermon. Most mosques will offer a small feast after this prayer.
Then they will go to the cemetery and offer prayers to their loved ones that had departed. This will be followed by visits to close relatives and friends.
This is one of the biggest holidays in Malaysia, and many that worked in the city, will travel to their family home. Muslims as well as non-Muslims will take the highway and every year without fail, will see massive traffic jams as well as road accidents!
Hari Raya Aidilfitri sees families getting together and will seek forgiveness from each other. The traditional Malay delicacies will vary from each state. However, rendang, lemang, and ketupat are the common delicacies that will be served when relatives and friends come to visit.
The kids and young adults that are not working will enjoy the additional bonus of getting 'duit raya' quite similar to the Chinese New Year's ang pow.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is practically a month-long celebration. So, come and join the celebration as many Malaysian Muslims will have open houses and you get a chance to savor the various Malay traditional food and delicacies.
Sandakan Memorial Day
Remembering the loved ones that had departed do not have to be during religious celebrations. For those that died during the war, special memorial days are organized.
Sandakan Memorial Day is held to honor the 2,700 Australian and British prisoners of war (POW) who perished during the torturous march from Sandakan to Ranau, a distance of 160 miles.
When the country was taken over by the Japanese during the Second World War, many locals, Australian and British soldiers were taken to Sandakan to build the Japanese military airstrips. They were not given proper treatment and many were malnourished and in very bad physical conditions.
When the Allied forces in the area were gaining strength, the Japanese decided to send the POWs inland to Ranau. There were then forced to take the long march that crossed several swamps, trekking through thick jungles and mountainous areas. Due to their poor physical conditions, all perished during this journey. However, six of them survived as they managed to escape and were hidden and fed by the locals.
Every year family members and friends of these soldiers, who died during the Death March, will travel to Sandakan to remember these fallen heroes. The memorial service is also to remember the locals who had risked their life and life of their families, by helping the POWs during the harsh Japanese occupation of the country.
Hungry Ghost Festival
Do you believe in ghost?
Well you should as the Chinese believed that the 'Gates of Hell' would be open on the 15th day of the 7th Lunar month. This is the day when the dead will return to visit their living relatives and will roam the streets.
To appease them, prayers will be held at homes and temples by burning paper houses, cars, replica money notes and other worldly materialist things that recently also includes paper iPad. These, it is believed, will help them live happily in the other world.
Foods such as chicken, fruits, rice, and vegetables will also be offered and are usually placed by the roadsides. This will appease the dead who will then not enter the homes and cause havoc.
This is also the time of the year where parents will tell their children not to stay out late at night as the streets will be full of roaming spirits and bad things can happen.
Merdeka or Independence Day Celebration
August is the month to witness one of the biggest processions in the country and relive the historic events, once again. It is the month for Independence Day celebration.
Malaysia got its independence from the British colonial rule on 31st August 1957 and every year Merdeka day celebration will be held in every major city in the country.
Various cultural and other activities will be arranged on the eve of Merdeka day followed by fireworks display. Colorful parades will then be held the next morning.
Every year, the theme for Merdeka Day celebration will change, but in most cases, it will hinge on the need to embrace patriotism towards the country.
With plenty of colorful fireworks display, cultural activities, and parades, this is the best time for shutterbugs and tourists alike.
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in September
Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge
Need to do something fishy?
Then head for The Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge, which is an annual off-shore catch and release fishing competition held near Kuala Rompin, Pahang. This is the largest fishing competition in the country which attracts many local and international participants.
The active migration season of the billfish that passes through this area, and the abundance of small fish for the billfish to feed on, makes Kuala Rompin an attractive fishing area for these migratory billfish.
Billfish can migrate over long distances and can produce rapid bursts of speed. Speed of over 68 miles per hour had been recorded before and Kuala Rompin offers the best Billfish type fishing in the region.
Mooncake or Mid-Autumn Festival
The Chinese Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival marks the end of the harvest season and since paper lanterns are displayed during this festival, it is also known as the Lantern Festival.
This celebration is similar to Thanksgiving as families will spend time together and eat mooncake, which is a symbol of unity and harmony.
If you head to Chinatown, do not forget to bring your camera to capture the festive mood. With giant lanterns and lanterns of all shapes and colors on display and for sale, it makes an excellent subject for photography.
If you are adventurous, buy or sample the many varieties and flavors of mookcakes that are available on sale. Mooncake makes up of thin and tender pastry skin that wraps around a sweet and dense filling (see photo below).
Traditional filling recipes will contain salted egg, lotus seed paste, or sweet bean paste. Now you can buy them in many and varied versions that include mixed nuts, coffee, chocolates, durian, yogurt, pineapple, and even jelly.
This is also the season for marriages as it is considered auspicious; hence, it is a popular month for couples to get married.
Trivia Quiz on Malaysia
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Malaysia Day Celebration
Malaysia is probably the only country in the world that celebrates two independence days. The first is the independence from the British colonial rule, i.e. on August 31st, and the second, the formation of Malaysia where four countries joined to form Malaysia on September 16th.
These countries are Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo (later renamed Sabah) and Singapore. Two years later, Singapore left to become an independent republic.
We open our doors again to several celebrations that will be held in various parts of the country. There will be an amazing array of cultural performances, parades and of course, fireworks display.
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in October
Hari Raya Aidiladha, also known as Hari Raya Haji
Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam and all Muslims who are financially and physically able, must travel to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, to perform Hajj once in a lifetime.
At the end of this Hajj, the pilgrims as well as Muslims throughout the world will celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha or the Arabic name, Eid al-Adha.
It is another important religious festival to honor the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to follow Allah's demand to sacrifice his son Ismail. However, Allah intervened and provided Ibrahim with a lamb instead.
Muslims throughout the world, including in Malaysia will celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha with prayers and for Muslims who can afford, will sacrifice sheep, cow, goat or camel.
The usual visits to families and friends and enjoying the festive delicacies are part of this joyous occasion.
Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon
For something different, let's go climb a mountain. To be more specific, join the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon.
Mount Kinabalu, standing at a height of 13,435 ft (4,095 m) above sea level, is the highest mountain in Malaysia and is one of the important biological sites in the world. It has more than 5000 species of flora and fauna and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As it is one of the most accessible mountains in the world, it is a popular site for both amateurs and professional climbers.
Since 1987, it is also the site for the International Climbathon, which is part of the Sky Runners World Series Circuit and the only race in the circuit held outside Europe.
A typical climb to the summit will take about two days, but for this climbathon participants can make it in less than three hours to go up and down this majestic Mount Kinabalu.
Despite being known as the toughest mountain climbathon in the world, this annual race is very popular and attracts many local and international participants.
Even if you cannot join in the race, you can be there to feel and experience the excitement and take photos!
For article on what to do in Kota Kinabalu, the nearest city to Mount Kinabalu, read here.
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in November
Deepavali or Festival of Lights
November is the month to add some spice to your life, so join in the Deepavali celebration, and enjoy the many spicy and sweet Indian delicacies.
Hindus all over the world, including in Malaysia, celebrate Deepavali or the ‘Festival of Lights’. It is a celebration of Hindu god Rama's victory and his return from exile. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
This is when families and friends of various races and faiths will visit each other and enjoy the many selections of traditional Indian foods. Read more here.
Festivals, Celebrations and Events in December
Christmas in Malaysia is no different from any other countries where, despite not having any snow or chimneys, you will see Santa Claus at shopping centers and at hotel lobbies happily giving away presents or sitting pretty, posing for photographs with children.
Giant Christmas trees will sprout all over town and at hotel lobbies and shopping malls.
Malaysia is a country with religious and ethnic diversity, a melting pot of several racial groups and we celebrate all the festive seasons of all the races.
Hence, true to the Malaysian spirits of hospitality, Christians will have open house and families and friends will visit their homes. Of course, this is after their midnight mass and the early morning family get together.
Travel to Malaysia
This end the journey and discovery of some of the many festivals, celebrations, and events of our country, Malaysia. There are more, but you need to come over here and see them all!
There are many amazing events all over the world, but Malaysia with its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diversities, add a different flavor to the whole celebrations.
If you miss any of these celebrations, do not worry. Malaysia celebrates everyone's festivals and hence, has an array of public holidays as well as special holidays. There are 46 public holidays each year, some are national public holidays, and some are public holidays in selected states only. Therefore, you are bound to bump into one, in whichever month you happen to arrive in Malaysia.
Hence, check out your travel apps for the best airfare and block out the vacation time on your diary.
See you here soon!
For a review of Malaysia by an American writer, read here.
© 2013 Mazlan