Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the most joyful of Muslim celebrations celebrated after Ramadhan, the fasting month. This is a time when Muslims working in major towns and cities make an exodus for their kampung or villages. Special prayers are held in mosques and it is a season when Muslims ask for forgiveness from their family members and friends. There’s plenty of house-visits and feasting that will happen during this month long celebration.
Malaysians have this great tradition called ‘open house’, a warm showing of what is known as Malaysian hospitality. Doors are opened to friends and family to come together and celebrate. There’s usually plenty of traditional Malay food and desserts to be had.
During this time, many citizens will also be able to meet the King and Queen of Malaysia personally at their royal open house. This is your chance to shake hands with them, as well as take pictures (and gawk) at the Istana Negara (the Royal palace) – the official residence of the King. Do drop in as well to the Prime Minister’s official abode at Seri Perdana in Jalan Damansara. But please be warned – the queue could stretch for miles! But it is an experience not to be missed.
Just remember to wish them Selamat Hari Raya and enjoy the glorious feast prepared for this celebration. Dress code for those who wish to pay their respects to the King and the Prime Minister is either formal, smart casual or long-sleeved batik.
On the eve of Deepavali, prayers are held both at home and in the temple. Traditional Hindus start the day by having an oil bath before sunrise, praying at home and burning incense before going to the temple. A show of respect to the elder members of the family is followed by open houses for relatives and friends, where a wide variety of delicious traditional Indian delicacies are served.
3. Chinese New Year
This is a major cultural festival in the Chinese community. During this time it is no uncommon to see almost all Chinese businesses close for several days, even in malls. The festival begins with a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve that is traditionally attended by every member of the family.
The Lunar New Year is the time when spirits are appeased and offerings are made to the gods. During the joyous occasion, no member of a Chinese household is allowed to clean the house as spring cleaning is done during the last seven days of the old year. Brooms are stored away as the Chinese believe that sweeping the floor during the new year would mean sweeping away the good luck from the household.
Open houses are also held during this happy celebration with lion dance performances as well. If you are in Kuala Lumpur at this time drop in at two major open houses held by two main political Chinese parties in Malaysia – the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Parti Gerakan. You will get the chance to meet most of Malaysias’s top Chinese politicians and leaders.
And remember red is the colour of the day. Red is most auspicious because it symbolises luck and prosperity. Don’t wear black because it is usually associated with mourning.
Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Muruga, a popular Hindu deity. Since the traditional abode of Lord Muruga is the hill, the celebration is held in hilly areas. The festival is celebrated on a grand scale at Batu Caves in Selangor or the Waterfall Temple in Penang. Before the actual day, Hindus taking part in the ceremony prepare themselves by fasting, dieting on certain food and maintaining self-discipline.
On the eve of the festival, the bejewelled image of Lord Muruga is taken on a grand procession in a silver chariot from the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Jalan Bandar in Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves where it is placed in the temple area. In an atmosphere electric with drumming and chanting, holy water is sprinkled on the deity’s route and thousands of fresh coconuts are smashed, symbolizing the washing away of sins.
Thousands of devotees converge on the temple grounds to pay hommage to Lord Muruga including penitents who carry ‘kavadis’ (ornate frames supported by metal spikes inserted in the bearer’s body) and chant their way up the 272 steps of Batu Caves in fulfilment of their vows for favours received.
5. Hari Raya Aidil Adha
Hari Raya Aidil Adha, or better known as Hari Raya Haji, is actually the most significant religious celebration for Muslims. It marks the end of the annual pilgrimmage, or Haj, to the Holy City of Mecca, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which all able-bodied Muslims are asked to perform at least once in their lifetime.
Hari Raya Aidil Adha is based on the concept of sacrifice, and it is during this occasion that Muslims all over the world are encouraged by their religion to slaughter cattle, sheep or goats as a token sacrifice – symbolic of bigger sacrifices they are asked to uphold the sanctity of their religion. The sacrificing of animals is why many Malaysians also refer to this day as Hari Raya Qurban – the arabic word for offering.
Sacrifices of cattle or goats are made to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s test of faith by God when he was asked to sacrifice his son. The meat from the sacrifices is distributed to the poor and needy. Special prayers and sermons are held at mosques in conjunction with the occasion.
Unlike Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Aidil Adha is not marked by the holding of “open houses” but is more of a solemn religious occasion. But like Hari Raya Aidilfitri, most Muslims make it a point to return to their home town for the celebration.
6. Wesak Day
Wesak is celebrated by Buddhists to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha – all three events having taken place on the same lunar date according to Buddhist reckoning. Buddhists observe a vegetarian diet to ‘cleanse’ themselves prior to the occasion. Thousands of devotees gather before dawn at temples for prayers, offerings, meditation, chanting and alms giving. Doves and tortoises are also released in a symbolic gesture of liberating the soul and forsaking past sins.
7. Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad or Maulidur Rasul is an important event in the Muslim calendar marked by processions to demonstrate solidarity of believers. Prayers, sermons and religious discussions are held at this time to strengthen the faith and consolidate the spirit of the Muslim community.
While their western counterparts regard Christmas more as a family affair, Malaysian Christians celebrate this occasion with family as well as friends. Christmas is another time of year when many people hold open houses to celebrate this occasion with the rest of the community, regardless of religion. It’s a merry affair.
There is much joy and gaiety as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ with parties, carolling and evening mass. Streets, hotels and shopping complexes are decorated with brilliant lights and ornaments to create a yuletide atmosphere – the Malaysian way. The spirit of giving extends beyond homes and individuals as hotels, shopping complexes and corporate companies hold concerts and shows as well as organise charity drives.
9. Sarawak Gawai Festival
The ‘Miring’ or ceremonial offering is especially fascinating. In this religious ritual, the Dayaks together with their guests would participate by placing several different kinds of foodstuff and ‘tuak’ (local rice wine), on plates as an offering to the gods. A special poem for the occasion is then recited and a cockerel is sacrificed.
Once the offering ceremony is over, the main celebration begins. It is best to watch this celebration at a longhouse, the traditional home of the community – sometimes 40 families living under one roof! – where there is virtually non-stop feasting, dancing and merry making, and of course the ‘tuak’ flows just as freely too. ‘Tuak’ consumed in abundance can knock you out flat without any warning.
In the city of Kuching there are a lot of festivities going on – including a beauty pageant and cultural performances at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Holding an open house is also the order of the day.
10. National Day
11. Hungry Ghost and Mooncake Festival
Associated with a time of harvest and preparation for colder months, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also strongly linked to the legend of Houyi, a mythical young archer, and Chang’e, a beautiful young girl and the moon goddess of immortality. There are many different versions of the tale, but most involve the myth of the Ten Suns and the legend that once a year, on the night of the Mid-Autumn festival, Houyi visits his beloved Chang’e on the moon, which is why the moon is so bright and beautiful on this night.
The Mooncake Festival is not marked officially with a public holiday but it nevertheless always observed and celebrated, with many Chinese run business closing for the day.