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FESTIVALS OF MALAYSIA • With religion being a major part of the lifestyle of Malaysians, it is no small wonder that the main festivals of Malaysia are naturally religious in origin. • Malaysia has a number of festivals and celebrations, some of which are celebrated as public holidays, either nationwide or specific to a few states. Most of these festivals are either religious or cultural in origin, and are swathed in traditions and rituals. However, like everything else in this culturally rich nation, the celebrations of religious or cultural festivals are influenced by the diversity of the people. • Hari Raya Puasa Hari Raya Puasa is a celebration marking the end of a Muslim month of fasting and abstinence, Ramadan. It is a special occasion for Muslims. Hari Raya Puasa officially begins at the sighting of the moon on the day before the next month on the Muslim calendar, Syawal. The first moon of the month of Syawal is sighted by religious elders in the late evening from several vantage points in Malaysia. The festival actually begins the following day, ushered in by prayers at the mosque early in the morning, and a visit to the cemetery to pray for the departed souls of loved ones. Then, of course, comes the feast. HARI RAYA HAJI • Hari Raya Haji literally means the ‘festival of pilgrimage’. It is the festival marking the day of pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth tenet of Islam. Hari Raya Haji is known to many as Hari Raya Aidil Adha. This festival is celebrated by Muslims to honour pilgrims who have completed their Haj to Mecca. Hari Raya Haji falls on the 10th day of the month of Dzulhijjah, the last month of the Muslim calendar. • Hari Raya Haji is also known as Hari Raya Korban, the festival of sacrifice. As such, the sacrifice of a cow or goat as food offerings to the poor is done. Chinese New Year (January/ February) • To the Chinese, the most important festival is Chinese New Year, which falls in either January or February. It is ushered in with the lighting of fire crackers at midnight on the eve of the Chinese Lunar Calendar Wesak Day (May 25) • This is the most important day of the Buddhist Calendar as it marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Buddhist devotees will gather in temples throughout the country to release doves and to offer prayers. Wesak is also an occasion to offer alms to monks and give free meals to the needy. Mooncake Festival (September) • The Chinese Mooncake Festival celebrates the overthrow of the Mongols during the end of the Yuan Dynasty (120G- 1341 AD) in China. It falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon (August/September). The festival is celebrated with colorful lantern processions on the night of the festival. The other specialty of the festival is the Mooncake itself. These cakes are rich, round pastries filled with a mixture of sweet red bean paste, lotus nut paste, or salted egg yolk. It is said that secret messages of revolt carried inside these cakes led to the uprising which deposed the Mongol Dynasty. • THAI PONGGAL (Jan 15) • In Malaysia, Thaiponggal 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. Ponggal is the presentation of the cooked harvested grain to the sun at dawn. Thaipusam Thaipusam, a day of consecration to the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan, sometimes also called Lord Subramaniam. A feature of the festival is the carrying of a kavadi, a frame decorated with colored papers, tinsels, fresh flowers, and fruits as a form of penance. In Kuala Lumpur, Hindus carrying the kavadi make the annual pilgrimage to the Batu Caves in Selangor, where the kavadi is carried up the 272 steps to the entrance of the great cave and deposited at the feet of the deity. Deepavali (late October or early November) • Deepavali or The Festival of Lights" is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu calendar. Hindus celebrate it by adorning their homes with dozens of lights or oil lamps, called vikku, to signify the triumph of good over evil, and thus light over darkness. It is a day of festive joy and Malaysians visit their friends of Hindu faith to extend good wishes and to partake in the feasting and jollity. Christmas (December 25) The spirit of Christmas is felt very much in Malaysia, especially in hotels, department stores and homes of Christians. Christmas trees, decorations, brilliant lights, Santa Claus and carols add to the festive air. Experienced among a host of other religious holidays, Christmas takes on new meanings. Kaamatan Festival in Sabah (May l -31) • The Kaamatan or Harvest Festival is celebrated by the Kadazans / Dusuns in thanks for a bountiful harvest. Highlights include a beauty pageant, cultural dances and rituals culminating in the thanksgiving ceremony performed by the Bobohizan or high priestess. Gawai Festival in Sarawak (end May or early June) The Ibans and Bidayuhs of Sarawak celebrate the end of padi harvesting season with much merry-making, dancing and the drinking of tuak, a potent rice wine. A fascinating Gawai dance is the Ngajat Lesong. A dancer displays his strength and skill by lifting the lesong (the mortar where padi is pounded) with his teeth. Malaysia National Day (August 31) Featuring parades and performances hosted by the government and private sectors in commemoration of Malaysia's years of independence Flora Fest (July) • Malaysia, with year-round sunshine and high humidity, provides the ideal climatic conditions for a rich plant life, amongst them a profusion of flowering species. Every year, in July, the Flora Fest is held to celebrate the beauty of Malaysia's blooms through various floral-themed events and competitions Malaysia Fest (September) • Pesta Malaysia, or Malaysia Fest, is a two-week affair held in September of every year. First held in 1987. it aims to create awareness and appreciation of Malaysian culture, craft and cuisine Open House (Strictly Malaysian) Balik Kampung (Strictly Malaysian) • Loosely translated, "balik kampung" means to go back to one's hometown. However, it is most applicable when used to describe the annual pilgrimage of city folk to their respective hometowns during festive seasons. It's not uncommon to find cities like Kuala Lumpur turning into ghost towns during Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year due to this yearly exodus. This feeling of desolation in cities is magnified when festivals fall close together, such as Kongsi Raya (Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year) or Deepa Raya ( Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali) although this happens only occasionally. • The 'Mamak Stall' Culture (Strictly Malaysian) • The term "mamak" is widely used, though it is not considered a polite term, to describe Indian Muslims. However, the term "mamak stalls" is not exclusively used to describe food stalls owned by members of that community. Rather, it has taken a wider meaning, due to its popularity, describing outdoor stalls of similar fashion that remain open till the wee hours of the morning. • Most mamak stalls open for business at about 5pm and remain open till way after midnight. It's not uncommon to see a row of stalls taking up more than just the allocated sidewalk space, with plastic chairs and tables covering a portion of the adjoining lanes or road.