As the holiday end rapidly approaches and we get back into our daily grinds I am reminded of the various holidays Malaysians enjoy throughout the year – due to our unique cultural mix it seems like we get to miss extra days of classes!
Public holidays in Malaysia are divided into national ones and ones that are only observed by individual states. The most observed, universal holiday is Hari Merdeka, or Independence Day on 31 August.
Other festivals are usually observed by particular ethnic and religious groups, and the main holidays of each major groups have been declared public holidays.
For example, Muslim holidays are prominent as Islam is the state religion. Hari Raya Puasa, or Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a holiday that marks the end of the Ramadan. It celebrates the 29 or 30 days of dawn to sunset fasting during this fasting month, and the day is typically started by congregating in mosques early in the morning to perform Hari Raya Puasa prayers followed by visits to graves of the departed. Open house or invitations for friends and relatives to visit are usually carried out during this time, often featuring traditional Malay delicacies.
The main Chinese holiday is, of course Chinese New Year. A tradition, centuries old, the exact timing of it is scheduled via the lunar calendar but typically falls on January or February each year. Traditional practices include visits to relatives or friends’ houses, dragon dances, red envelopes and firecrackers. Strictly speaking Chinese New Year lasts fifteen days, but in modern times, this has been shortened to the day before Chinese New Year itself when families have their reunion dinners and the subsequent three days of festivities.
Deepavali, the festival of lights and Thaipusam are the two major Hindu holidays. The deeper meaning of Deepavali is “the awareness of the inner light” and it is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu solar calendar. This celebration of victory of good over evil refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance. On the other hand, Thaipusam takes place in the month of Thai in the Hindu calendar (January 15 – February 15) at an astronomically significant point of time, namely when Pusam, Lord Murugan taught his father Lord Shiva the meaning of the word Aum. Aum is a highly potent terminology in Hinduism that signifies the primeval sound of creation. The significance here is based on the moment when a son turned teacher to his father.