Thailand Public Holidays 2013 Calendar

Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world. You may wonder why is it so popular? Well, there are many reasons why it has a special place in some many people’s hearts. First of all, Thailand is an exotic country. If you’re looking for something unique, different and rare to find then Thailand is the place to go. Their cultural celebrations and religious ceremonies are extraordinary, something you won’t see anywhere else in the world.


Secondly, their food is phenomenal, people are charming and beaches are simply stunning. Most of them are untouched and very natural. This country has a bit of everything: beautiful jungles and mountains in norther part and pristine beaches in the south.

Last, but not least, there are more than thirty public holidays and festivals celebrated in Thailand every year. If you are planning to go to Thailand and get the most of this beautiful country, you should definitely take part in some of their festivals.

The expected dates for public holidays and festivals in Thailand 2013 are shown in the list below.

New Year’s Day (Solar and Gregorian calendars)

Date: January 1st, 2013
Why celebrated: Continuing on from December 31st, January 1st is also observed as a public holiday. A day for people to relax and recover from the parties and firework displays of the night before!
Where: Nationwide

Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

Dates: January 20th – 22nd, 2013
Why celebrated: Known for its colourful, hand crafted umbrellas and parasols, every year the village of Bo Sang holds a yearly festival celebrating its local art. The village’s craft shops are brightly decorated and there is also a pageant to crown Miss Bo Sang. This is an interesting glimpse into an ancient culture if you happen to be in the area.
Where: Bo Sang Village, near Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Dates: February 1st – 3rd, 2013
Why celebrated: On the first weekend in February Chiang Mai explodes in a riot of colour. Although most activity is in Suan Buak Haad Park, the whole city plays a part in the floral celebrations with the municipal flower beds paid even more attention to than usual. You’ll be able to buy orchids in the park and watch the float parades of local beauties competing to be crowned the Miss Chiang Mai Flower Festival Queen.
Where: Chiang Mai

Chinese New Year

Date: February 10th, 2013
Why celebrated: Many Thais have Chinese origins, some only going back a generation or two and Chinese culture has played a big part in establishing the Thailand we know today. In many towns and cities you’ll see Chinese characters on older shops, alongside the Thai alphabet. Whilst Chinese New Year isn’t an official holiday in Thailand, it will still be celebrated amongst those who to choose to do so and some shops will be closed.
Where: amongst Ethnic Chinese communities, Chinatown (Yaowarat) in Bangkok

Makha Puja / Makha Bucha Day

Date: March 11th, 2013
Why celebrated: This important Buddhist festival is observed on the full moon of the third lunar month – normally February. During the day practicing Buddhists attempt to purify their minds, do acts of goodness and kindness and try not to commit any sins. In the evening temples hold atmospheric candlelit processions to round off the day.
Where: Nationwide

Chakri Memorial Day

Date: April 6th, 2013
Why celebrated: Known officially as King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke the Great Day and Chakri Dynasty Memorial Day, the somewhat easier to pronounce Chakri Memorial Day commemorates the founding in 1782 of both the Chakri Dynasty and of the city of Bangkok by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke.
Where: Nationwide

Songkran – Thai New Year

Date: April 13th – 17th, 2013
Why celebrated: Songkran is the Thai New Year and is probably the most famous of all the Thai festivals. Originally images of the Buddha were bathed with water and the same ‘blessed’ water was then used to bring good fortune to family and elders by gently pouring it on their shoulders. These days however, the emphasis is on fun and Songkran is a raucous water drenched occasion. In fact you’re more likely to be shot with a super soaker water gun or have a bucket of water tipped over your head than be gently anointed!
Where: Nationwide

Labor Day

Date: May 1st, 2013
Why celebrated: Like many countries across the world, Labor Day is celebrated on the 1st of May, although to be honest, not much happens! It’s a public holiday though, so it’s a chance for office workers and government employees to take the day off and relax
Where: Nationwide

Coronation Day

Date: May 5th, 2013
Why celebrated: This special day commemorates the coronation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1950. His royal highness is the world’s longest reigning monarch and both he and the Queen are much loved and respected by the Thai people.
Where: Nationwide

Bun Bang Fai – Rocket Festival

Dates: May 10th – 12th, 2013
Why celebrated: The rocket festival is a merit-making ceremony held by farmers in the dry Northeast of Thailand to encourage rain fall. Celebrations of this 3 day extravaganza include parades and traditional dancing. Festivities culminate in the launch of the rockets by different teams of co-workers or friends. Beware if you’re thinking of joining in as any team failing to get their rocket off the launch pad is thrown into a mud patch!
Where: Isan, particularly in Yasathon

Royal Plowing Ceremony

Date: May 11th, 2013
Why celebrated: Also known as Farmer’s Day, this is a ceremony that blesses and acknowledges the Kingdom’s many farmers who work long hours toiling the land. The date is determined astrologically and announced by the Bureau of the Royal Household when it has been decided.
Where: Bangkok

Vesak Bucha

Date: May 24th, 2013
Why celebrated: This important day is a public holiday when Buddhists commemorate the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha. Falling on the full moon of the 6th lunar month – normally May – it is also designated National Tree Day.
Where: Nationwide

Inthakin Festival

Date: Not yet announced but usually end of May, 2013
Why Celebrated: Inthakin is the name given to the ‘city pillar’ in the Northern city of Chiang Mai. Said to have been erected at the founding of Chiang Mai in 1296, today the pillar is offered flowers, candles and incense in a fun 6 to 8 day celebration in which all the residents of the city take part.
Where: Chiang Mai

Phi Ta Khon Festival

Date: June 7th, 2013
Why celebrated: Also known as the Ghost Festival, Phi Ta Khon is actually a group of festivals held over three days sometime between March and July. On the first day the town’s residents ask for protection from the spirit of the Mun River, play games and hold a procession wearing masks and specially made clothing. The second day sees costume and dance contests and more parades whilst the third is dedicated to listening to sermons given by monks.
Where: Dan Sai Village, Loei Province, Isan

Pu Sae Ya Sae Festival

Date: June 23rd, 2013
Why celebrated: This animist festival takes place on Wat Doi Kham in Chiang Mai and is meant to appease the guardian spirits, Pu Sae and Ya Sae. Put simply, it involves the ritual sacrifice of buffalos and the eating of their raw flesh. Definitely one to avoid if you’re a vegetarian or animal lover!
Where: Chiang Mai

Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival

Dates: July 22nd – 23rd, 2013
Why celebrated: This popular festival celebrates the time of year when Buddhists donate items, including candles, to monks at the beginning of the rainy season. The candles are to shed light in the temple and monks’ quarters when the days may be damp and cloudy. Locals parade huge candles through the streets, with each temple and area being represented.
Where: Ubon Ratchathani Province, Isan

Vassa

Date: July 23rd, 2013
Why celebrated: Vassa takes place during the three month rainy season and is observed by Theravada Buddhists. The closest thing to compare it to would be the Christian period of Lent as some monks use this time for intensive meditation, whilst normal Buddhists may choose to give up meat, alcohol or smoking. Vassa is followed by Kathina (see above).
Where: Nationwide

Asanha Bucha

Date: July 30th, 2013
Why celebrated: Normally taking place on the full moon of the eighth lunar month, Asanha Bucha is one of the most important Theravada Buddhist festivals in the calendar. Also known as Dharma Day, it celebrates the Buddha’s first sermon where he laid out the doctrines that appeared to him during his enlightenment. Those observing the day make offerings to temples and listen to sermons given by monks.
Where: Nationwide

Eid ul-Fitr

Date: August 8th, 2013
Why celebrated: This Muslim holiday celebrates the end of the month of fasting; Ramadan. It is observed as a public holiday by Muslim Thais and the local governments in the predominantly Muslim provinces in the south of the country.
Where: Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Satun Provinces

The Queen’s Birthday

Date: August 12th, 2013
Why celebrated: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit is much revered by the Thai people and her birthday is a national holiday as well as being declared National Mother’s Day. In bigger towns and cities the streets are decorated with fairy lights in her honour, creating a beautiful atmosphere at night.
Where: Nationwide

Hungry Ghost Festival

Date: August 21st, 2013
Why celebrated: Chinese in origin, the Hungry Ghost Festival (known in Phuket as Por Tor) takes place during the traditional Chinese calendar’s Ghost Month. This is when the gates of Hell open allowing spirits to return to the land of the living. These ghosts spend the next few weeks visiting their families as well as looking for victims to feast upon. In Thailand it’s celebrated in areas with large Chinese communities, who make offerings to appease the spirits.
Where: Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

Tesagan Gin Je – Vegetarian Festival

Dates: October 5th – 11th, 2013
Why celebrated: This 9 day festival sees the devout dressing only in white and abstaining from all meat, seafood and dairy. Participating restaurants declare their involvement by hanging yellow flags outside their shops to show they are only serving vegetarian food, however it is the island of Phuket that has made the festival famous due to the most extreme of the devotees gathering there to pierce themselves through the cheeks with sharp objects and slash themselves with swords. Not for the faint of heart!
Where: Nationwide but mainly Phuket

Eid al-Adha

Date: October 15th, 2013
Why Celebrated: This is another Muslim public holiday and one which commemorates the readiness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael in a display of obedience to Allah. Again, this is observed by Thai Muslims and the local governments in the Southern provinces.
Where: Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Satun Provinces

Wan Awk Pansa

Date: October 18th, 2013
Why celebrated: This is the last day of Vassa – sometimes known as Buddhist Lent. Theravada Buddhists make boats from banana wood or bamboo and decorate them with flowers and lamps. The boats are then filled with offerings of sweets and sticky rice and floated downstream in rivers or canals in the evening.
Where: Nationwide

Naga Fireball Festival

Date: October 18th – 19th, 2013
Why celebrated: Taking place in the eleventh lunar month (October) over the course of two nights, the Naga Fireballs are unexplained balls of light that rise from the Mekong River. They are believed by many to be a demonstration of paranormal activity and if you’re a fan of weird natural phenomena it could be well worth making the trip to the Northeast.
Where: Nong Khai Province, Isan

Kathina Festival

Date: October 19th, 2013
Why celebrated: This one month long Buddhist festival is held at the end of Vassa, the 3 month period spanning the rainy season which Theravada Buddhists observe. Kathina begins after the full moon of the eleventh month in the Luna calendar – normally October. This is a time to give thanks to the monks and Lay Buddhists will express their gratitude by taking donations and new robes to their local temple.
Where: Nationwide

Chulalongkorn Day

Date: October 23rd, 2013
Why celebrated: His Majesty King Chulalongkorn is one of the most loved and respected of the former monarchs of Siam. During his 42 year long reign he established social reforms and helped Thailand take huge progressive steps, particularly in governmental issues. This public holiday commemorates his passing.
Where: Nationwide

Buffalo Racing Festival

Date: Not yet announced but will be end of October, 2013
Why celebrated: The crazy annual Buffalo Racing festival began over 100 years ago after two farmers argued who owned the fastest buffalo. What started as a ‘decider race’ has now turned into a fully-fledged festival as bare back buffalo riders stampede through downtown Chonburi in pursuit of local fame and glory!
Where: Chonburi

Yi Peng Festival

Date: November 14th, 2013
Why celebrated: Very similar to Loi Krathong, the floating flower raft festival, Yi Peng takes place just a few days before in November, although instead of rafts Thai paper sky lanterns – known as Khoom Fai – are lit and released into the night sky. Symbolizing letting go of grudges, wishes are also made for good luck and fortune. Originating in the North of the country, Chiang Mai is the best place to get a taste of this beautiful festival.
Where: Nationwide but in the North around Chiang Mai is best

Surin Elephant Round-Up

Dates: November 16th – 17th, 2013
Why celebrated: The Surin Elephant Round-up normally occurs on the third weekend of November. The people of Surin were known for being skilled elephant capturers and trainers however as the elephant became less crucial to trade their mahouts (handlers) have had to turn to new ways to make a living. The Round-Up showcases the strength and skills of these gentle giants in shows, tugs of war and even football matches.
Where: Surin Province, Isan

Loi Krathong Festival

Date: November 18th, 2013
Why celebrated: One of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals, Loi Krathong takes place on the night of the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar – usually in November. Loi means ‘to float’ and a krathong is a raft made from banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks and a candle. The candle is to praise the Buddha with light whilst the act of sending the krathong down a river symbolizes letting go of any anger or grudges you may be holding on to. Thais will sometimes cut their hair or fingernails and place them on the Krathong as a symbol of letting go of the parts of themselves they do not like. Don’t forget to make a wish too when you release your krathong into the water.
Where: Nationwide

Monkey Buffet Festival

Date: November 25th, 2013
Why celebrated: Set up to promote tourism in this region just north of Bangkok, the annual Monkey Buffet has become something of a modern tradition. Residents of Lopburi serve the town’s monkeys (of which there are many!) with buffets of freshly prepared fruit and vegetables, much to the delight of both the monkeys and the tourists!
Where: Lopburi Province

Khon Kaen Silk Festival

Date: November 29th – December 10th, 2013
Why celebrated: Despite this being a commercial festival aiming to promote the local silk industry in Khon Kaen, for 10 days at the end of November and the beginning of December, the Silk Festival has expanded to include lively parades and performances of local music.
Where: Khon Kaen, Isan

Thai Royal Guards Parade

Date: December 2nd, 2013
Why celebrated: Since 1953, the Thai Royal Guards Parade has taken place on the 2nd of every December in celebration of the King’s birthday, 3 days later on the 5th. Taking place at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza in front of Dusit Palace, the military parade symbolically pledges loyalty to the much loved royal family of Thailand and His Majesty in particular.
Where: Bangkok

The King’s Birthday

Date: December 5th, 2013
Why celebrated: As the World’s longest reigning monarch, His Majesty the King is revered by Thais all over the world. The 5th of December is a public holiday to allow people to celebrate his birthday. It is also denoted Father’s Day in honour of his Royal Highness. This part of the year is a wonderful time to be in Thailand as the streets will be hung with fairy lights and it makes the run up to Christmas even more atmospheric.
Where: Nationwide

Constitution Day

Date: December 10th, 2013
Why celebrated: December the 10th commemorates the day on which, in 1932, the first permanent public constitution was declared in Thailand. Constitution Day is now a public holiday for all citizens to enjoy.
Where: Nationwide

New Year’s Eve (Solar and Gregorian calendars)

Date: December 31st, 2013
Why celebrated: Despite Thai new year not being until April (see Songkran) Thais love to party and so fully embrace the Western calendar’s New Year’s Eve. December 31st is celebrated with parties, drinking and fireworks and is also denoted a public holiday.
Where: Nationwide

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National Day – Malaysia

National Day is celebrated every year in Malaysia on the 31st of August to commemorate the momentous occasion when the Federation of Malaya achieved independence from British rule in 1957. On the 30th of August, Malaysia’s then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman took to the Royal Selangor Club Padang, now known as the Merdeka square at 11.58pm and observed two minutes of darkness. At the stroke of midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and raised with the Flag of Malaya. The morning after, Tunku Abdul Rahman read aloud the Proclaimation of Independence, followed by seven chants of Merdeka, with the crown at the square joining following each chant. The moment is considered to be one of Malaysia’s most memorable and significant points in history.

National Day shouldn’t be confused with Malaysia Day, which is celebrated on September 16 and declared an official public holiday since 2010. Malaysia Day marks the day where Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya had joined together to form the federation of Malaysia, although Singapore has since become its own country.

This year would be the 55th year that Malaysia celebrates her independence from British rule. However, times have changed Malaysia into a newer, more politically aware and conscious young nation. It can certainly be argued that the patriotic spirit has dwindled especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, partly due to increased dissatisfaction and racial discrimination felt by a growing number of young Malaysian Chinese and Indians. Unity among races and a greater patriotic spirit among Malaysians are certainly stronger now than two decades or three decades ago. Nevertheless, Malaysian citizens would be quick to proclaim their love for their country, despite their misgivings for the country’s current administration.

Government buildings and corporations would start decorating the buildings with the colours of the national flag in the weeks before National Day. Decorations with themes of red, blue, yellow and white along with the national and state flags would hang off almost every window and building in the city. Malaysia’s national flag is proudly known as the “Jalur Gemilang” and the flag is usually the central theme and pride of the nation and her people. Old and torn flags are frowned upon and will usually be replaced by newer and brightly coloured flags. Vehicles are not to be missed out, and during the month leading to the celebrations, it will not be unusual to see vehicles decked out as colourful as buildings in the colours of the Jalur Gemilang.

In the past decade or so, to young urban Malaysians, National Day usually means looking forward to commercials from Petronas, an oil and gas company which is solely owned by the Government of Malaysia. Around this time, Petronas-commissioned commercials with themes centralized around unity and love among the three biggest races in Malaysia are aired. These commercials were originally the brainchild of the late Yasmin Ahmad, a very much loved and veered figure in the entertainment industry, until her untimely death in 2009.

Public schools usually have class-decorating, essay writing and poetry competitions, all with National Day themes. The more creative classes would be completely decked out in red, blue, yellow and white decorations and poems and essays about unity and tolerance are usually written. There will also be nationwide competitions held by many corporate and government bodies to commemorate the glorious event.

On the eve of National Day, fireworks will light up the sky at the stroke of midnight, usually set off in Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. In recent years, the fireworks have been moved to Putrajaya where they are equally, and if not more beautiful, dazzling the crowd who would stop their cars on the highway and people who would gather at the parks in Putrajaya to witness this few minutes of splendor. It is truly a sight to behold. In 2008, the fireworks were moved to Titiwangsa lake in Kuala Lumpur, where a giant ferris wheel named the Eye of Malaysia had been set up a year before. The fireworks and the lights from the city and the ferris wheel added a touch of scenic splendor to the entire patriotic affair.

The National Day Parade

The highlight of National Day is the National Day parade organized every year. Every year, there will be an official theme and slogan for National Day and this year will be no different. The slogans usually resonate with the country’s current prime minister and his policies. Since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is known for his policies to transform and change the country ever since he took office in 2008, the themes for National Day have been about transformation and the catchphrase “1 Malaysia” signifying unity and tolerance among different races. In 2011, the theme was “1 Malaysia, Transformasi Berjaya, dan Rakyat Sejahtera” (1 Malaysia, A Successful Transformation, Peace among the People). This year’s theme is yet to be announced but there is no doubt it will again be centered on transformation. One of the more famous slogans and themes was the recurrent theme from 2000-2006 which was “Keranamu Malaysia” or “Because of you, Malaysia”. The inaugural guest of honour presiding over the National Day parade will be the Yang di Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia along with government dignitaries and other VIPs.

The parade is slightly different every year depending on the circumstances and decisions made by the federal government. The parade is usually held in the streets of the city culminating in Merdeka Square, where it all began in 1957. However, since 1985, the celebrations have been moved to other states in the country so that citizens all around the country have a chance to participate and revel in the celebrations as well. In the year 2009, it was a smaller scale celebration limited to only 4000 people as there was the H1N1 flu pandemic at the time. In 2010, the parade only lasted for 40 minutes as it was in the midst of Ramadan month where Muslims have to observe fasting rites during the day. Of recent years, the national parade has been held in Putrajaya three times seeing that it was the main administrative capital of the country.

Every year, a human graphic display of the Jalur Gemilang will be readied by members of Soka Gakkai Malaysia, and will usually be formed on the parade grounds or on the streets where the celebrations are held. The Royal Malay Regiment or another military unit of the three services of the Malaysian Armed Forces will form the Guard of Honor Company, usually joined with a military band. When the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong (Queen) arrives at the venue, the Guards of Honor render the Royal Salute to His Majesty and Her Majesty, and the national anthem, Negaraku is played by the military band. Immediately after this, the Guards of Honor order arms, readying for inspection by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The Royal Inspection

When the inspection starts, the military band plays “Menungjung Duli March”. After the inspection, the national anthem is played again, and the human graphic display will then arrange itself to show the words, “Daulat Tuanku” (Long Live the King). The Guards of Honor will then perform a march past after the display.

A 21-gun salute will also be performed by members of the Royal Artillery Regiment after the flag has been raised to the national anthem. The Rukunegara (National Principles) will then be recited by the emcee and is usually started with a pledge, Maka Kami (translated into ‘And therefore, we…’), the left hand at shoulder level. Following the reciting of the Rukunegara, seven shouts of Merdeka! (translated into ‘Independence!’) will follow with the left hand raised.

The Rukunegara

The Rukunegara was proclaimed in the year 1970, a year after the deathly riots between the races that make up Malaysia’s population on May 13, 1969. The government of Malaysia at the time sought to resolve the tension and instill unity among the races in the aftermath of the riots. As a result of these efforts, the Rukunegara is a declaration of national philosophy for the people to follow and live by these principles. The pledge is recited at every official function and weekly at assemblies in schools around the country.

The literal Malay verse of the Rukunegara is as follows:

BAHAWASANYA NEGARA KITA MALAYSIA mendukung cita-cita hendak:

  • mencapai perpaduan yang lebih erat di kalangan seluruh masyarakatnya;
  • memelihara satu cara hidup demokratik;
  • mencipta satu masyarakat adil di mana kemakmuran Negara akan dapat dinikmati bersama secara adil dan saksama;
  • menjamin satu cara liberal terhadap tradisi-tradisi kebudayaannya yang kaya dan berbagai corak; dan
  • membina satu masyarakat progresif yang akan menggunakan sains dan teknologi moden.

MAKA KAMI, rakyat Malaysia, berikrar akan menumpukan seluruh tenaga dan usaha kami untuk mencapai cita-cita tersebut berdasarkan atas prinsip-prinsip yang berikut:

  • KEPERCAYAAN KEPADA TUHAN
  • KESETIAAN KEPADA RAJA DAN NEGARA
  • KELUHURAN PERLEMBAGAAN
  • KEDAULATAN UNDANG-UNDANG
  • KESOPANAN DAN KESUSILAAN

And when translated into English, it is as follows:

Our nation, Malaysia, is being dedicated to:

  • Achieving a greater unity of all her people;
  • Maintaining a democratic way of life;
  • Creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
  • Ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition;
  • Building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:

  • BELIEF IN GOD
  • LOYALTY TO KING AND COUNTRY
  • UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION
  • SOVEREIGNTY OF THE LAW, and
  • GOOD BEHAVIOUR AND MORALITY

The Rukunegara has become an important and integral part of the nation as it is beyond politics. It talks about a democratic nation founded on a steadfast faith in God, honor and love for the King and Country, and a wholly just and democratic society which upholds the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

The parade

The fun starts after the formal and solemn proceedings have ended. Patriotic songs accompanied by members of the ethnic percussion group will be sung, and the stage will be filled with young dancers dressed in the many colourful costumes that make up the various races and ethnic groups of the country. Every year, there will be a new theme song and this song will be sung as well.

The skies would not be missed out in the celebrations as well, and planes of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Malaysian Army Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Navy will take to the skies in a salute to the nation. The fleet is led by military helicopters flying the Malaysian flag, the flags of the Armed Forces and the flags of the 13 states of Malaysia and the flags of its 3 federal territories, with the rest of the military aircraft following behind.

The march past then begins with the three divisions of the Armed Forces, the Royal Malaysian Police, civilian and business organizations. Each contingent will march past the parade stage where the Royal Highnesses preside over the celebrations and give a royal salute. There will also be floats, representing their organization and is decorated with intricate designs and decorations which symbolizes the heart of their organization.

Where to be and what to do

Tourists should be sure not to miss out the exciting parade every year and join the crowd at Dataran Merdeka to watch the parade on the morning of National Day and partake in the festivities. The roads in and around Dataran Merdeka will usually be closed in preparation for the festivities but due to the prominence of the location, Dataran Merdeka is easily accessible via public transport as it is in the vicinity of KTM stations and LRT stations nearby as well as a bus station. In other states such as Penang and Sabah which are also known as tourist hotspots in Malaysia, other Merdeka Day festivities will be held as well. An annual regatta organized by the Kinabalu Yacht Club will take place in Sabah from the 31st August until 2nd of September to commemorate the occasion. In Penang, a parade will usually also be held in the city centre with a considerably higher number of tourist turn out due to the island being a popular holiday destination.

For every patriotic Malaysian, no matter how they celebrate, each year brings a special meaning to National Day. This year will surely be no different and perhaps even more important and relevant to the people as the country’s national elections will be declared this year as well.

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Thaipusam Festival – Batu Caves, Malaysia

Thaipusam is celebrated every year by the Hindu Tamil community on the full month in the Thai month (February) of the Hindu lunar calendar. As Malaysia has a sizeable Hindu Tamil population, the festival is celebrated on a large scale among the Tamil community, the main location of which culminates in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, and in Balathanda-yuthapani temple which is located on a hill in Penang.

The word Thaipusam refers to the Pusam star which is believed to be at its highest point in the Thai month. In the spirit of the Malaysian unity and also their frequently crossed religious cultures, Thaipusam is also celebrated by a growing number of ethnic Chinese in the country as well as those of the Sikh faith.

The celebration starts as early as 1am on the day of the festival. In Kuala Lumpur, devotees would start to gather at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Bandar Road to witness the ceremonial bath of Lord Muruga. The deity would be adorned with colorful flowers, precious stones and elaborate ornaments before being placed on a ceremonial silver chariot which would be drawn by two oxen. The entire chariot weighs about 5 tonnes in total. A pilgrimage would then proceed on foot from the Sri Maha Mariamman temple on a 15km journey to the shrine at the Batu Caves Hindu temple. The final journey culminates in a 272-step ascent to the temple which is in the caves. The journey would start at 4am and last for about 8 hours to Batu Caves. Hundreds of devotees will accompany the chariot on the long journey, many carrying kavadi as self-inflicted penance.

Similarly in Penang, a grand procession starts from Little India and goes on a 18km journey to Nattukottai Chettiar Thandayuthapani Kovil and Waterfall temple (Balathanda-yuthapani) in Jalan Air Terjun Waterfall Road) during Thaipusam Penang.

The legend

There are a few legends associated with how the celebration of Thaipusam came about. In one of the legends, the Great Saint Agasthya had instructed his student Idumban to uproot two hills from the earth which belonged to Lord Murugan and to bring the hills back to the Great Saint. When Lord Murugan heard about this, he wanted to test Idumban’s loyalty and devotion to his master. He reduced his size to that of a small child and stood on top one of the hills. To Idumban’s great surprise, he was unable to uproot any of the hills and when he checked, he saw a small child standing haughtily on the top of the hill. Idumban humbly requested for the child to step down from the hill, but when the child refused, Idumban flew into a great rage and tried to attack the child. This failed, for the child was Lord Murugan in disguise, and Idumban found himself on a heap on the ground like an injured little bird. Lord Murugan then reverted back into his original form and stood before Idumban and told him that he was pleased with Idumban’s show of faith, loyalty and devotion to his master. Lord Murugan also bestowed Idumban the honour of being his guardian and made a declaration that from then on, whoever who brought forth kavadis to him would receive his blessings. The kavadis that you see at Thaipusam festivals today symbolizes the hills of burden that Idumban had borne. This is why most temples chosen for the festival are usually on top of hills.

There were other legends surrounding the origin of Thaipusam. In another version, a demon by the name of Tharakasuran was troubling the Rishis and the Saints. Lord Murugan was called forth by his parents Lord Shiva and Parvati and was instructed to destroy the demon. He was given 12 weapons, the twelfth being a ‘vel’, a spear like weapon with an arrowhead tip, given to him by his mother Parvati. Lord Murugan destroyed Tharakasuran on the Pusam Nakshatra day in the Thai month of the Tamil calendar. In yet another version of how Thaipusam came about, on that legendary day, Shiva and Parvati were engaged in a beautiful dance as the other gods watched.

Thaipusam is also believed to originate from a war between the celestial beings Devas and Asuras, the evil forces. This war torn the world apart, and the Devas paid homage to Lord Shiva, asking for His protection. Lord Shiva agreed to help them, and He opened the central eye on His forehead, radiating six sparks of fire, which convered into his son, the Lord Murugan. Armed with a golden spear, called the Nyanya Vel, Lord Murugan went to battle, and after a long and fierce battle, Lord Murugan slain Soorapadme in one stroke. One portion of the slain Soorapadme was converted into a peacock as the Lord Murugan’s vehicle and the other portion into a rooster adorning his banner. This is why the vel (spear) and peacock feathers are frequently incorporated into the festivities of Thaipusam.

Similar themes run through all the legends. They involve Lord Murugan eradicating negative and evil forces that eradicate us and it is this theme that runs through the entire Thaipusam festival. On this day, devotees make offerings to Lord Murugan to thank him for banishing evil forces from their lives, and the kavadi or burden that the devotee bears for Lord Murugan has benefits that are a million fold greater than the little pain that the devotee would inflict upon him or herself.

The Kavadi

The kavadi concept comes in many forms. Generally, devotees take up a vow to offer the Lord a kavadi as a tiding over a great calamity or as an oath to ask for help from the Lord Murugan. For example, a parent whose son is sick would pray for his son’s recovery in return for which the devotee would dedicate a kavadi to the lord.

A kavadi has many shapes and sizes. The most spectacular forms of kavadi are the vel kavadis where the structures are in the shapes of metal frames adorned with colourful decorations, peacock feathers, flowers and golden chains. Others are much simpler in structure, in the form of a wooden stick with two baskets at the end. The simplest form of a kavadi would be to carry a jug of milk. Brass bells are most often adorned on the kavadi, ringing as the kavadi bearer walks, announcing his presence.

These kavadi structures are often attached to the kavadi bearers’ bodies. The most memorable and focal point of the festival would be to witness these kavadi bearers and the self-torture they inflict upon themselves as an act of devotion towards Lord Murugan. Some pierce a sharp spear through their tongue, and others through their cheeks. Piercing the vel through the tongue is said to prevent free speech so that the devotee can focus his entire concentration on the Lord Murugan. Some pierce steel hooks into flesh off of their backs. Some of these hooks are connected to a person pulling a rope, or connected to small bells and fruits, or limes in particular. A single lime may not weigh much, but when the hooks are connected to 50 limes down a devotee’s back, the feat involved a great wealth of devotion and tolerance. We call it self-torture but the kavadi-bearer is often in a state of trance and claims to feel no pain. A first time kavadi bearer however, may be a little apprehensive when the vel hooks are pierced through the skin and the metal straps of the kavadi structures are tightened. This usually goes away once the priest arrives to give a blessing, sometimes putting the kavadi bearer into a trance, allowing the family members and friends to continue on with the piercing.

For the others, there are often no signs of blood or pain on the bearers’ faces or signs of any scarring after the hooks have been taken out. They are said to be in the highest form of religious fervor and sometimes are even possessed by Lord Muruga himself. These kavadi bearers are also often accompanied by friends and family for support and in the long and tortuous journey up to the temple, it is the support by fellow devotees and surrounding friends and family that the kavadi bearer relies on to keep going. The kavadis may seem weightless like feathers as the kavadi bearers dance and swing all the way to the temple. Yet, the journey is not easy and the structures weigh as much as 70kg, sometimes more. As the procession nears the temple, the sun would have risen by this time and the large crowds would have added to the sweltering heat that the kavadi bearers have to tolerate as well. The bearers are usually barefoot and would have to walk on the burning hot tarmac once the sun rises. The hardest part of the journey is often not the journey on the road but once they reach the foot of the hill as 272 steps stand between them and the temple. The encouragement of family members and other devotees are crucial to climb up all 272 steps.

The procession is not a quiet affair, and the stream of devotees is always accompanied by a band of percussionists and a leader singing religious songs, called the urumee. The tasks of these musicians are to encourage and give support to the kavadi bearers to continue in their journey of faith. The music is encouraging, as those carrying the vel kavadi are more prone to fatigue, and they frequently have to stop throughout the journey to rest.

The kavadi bearer usually observes strict customs and “regulations” prior to carrying the kavadi on the day of the festival. Kavadi bearers usually observe strict celibacy from sex, drugs and alcohol. They will also meditate and pray and practice vegetarianism before the start of the festival. These acts of devotion and holiness are also observed by other devotees, not just the kavadi bearers. The bearers are also frequently dressed in a saffron-colored cloth, a conical scarlet cap and a cane which is silver capped at both ends. As mentioned, the devotees also frequently take part in the procession on barefoot. It is also not unusual to see devotees of other faiths and religion take part in this unique festival. Among the ethnic Chinese community, especially the Buddhists who share many of the same beliefs as Hindus, it is not unusual to see Chinese people among the devotees with a jug of milk atop their heads as they march along with the procession to the temple. The grand affair will also be attended by hundreds of tourists and photographers as they scramble to get the spot that will attain the best view of the procession. This spirit of kindred unity and combined faith is even more prominent in the state of Penang, where the population is predominantly Chinese. The lines between faiths blur as the festival is more about upholding and showing one’s faith, courage and devotion to his or her God regardless of religion.

Penance

There are other ways for devotees to fulfill their religious obligations other than carrying kavadis. Some provide support for the kavadi bearers and massage their sore arms and legs or provide stools for the bearers to sit whenever they stop to rest. Some devotees shave their head and facial hair while some prepare food so that the other devotees would not have to go hungry. In fact, on Thaipusam there will usually be a congregation of Indian barbers at the foot of the hill with thousands of eager customers, each waiting to shave his or her hair. Each devotee has his or her own reasons for doing penance. As mentioned earlier, some seek to overcome bad luck or karma, others to honour a vow made, and some as penance for their sins. It is believed that once a vow has been fulfilled and if the devotee does not carry a kavadi as promised, he or she will receive misfortune in return.

The atmosphere on the day of Thaipusam is electric and has a festive air filled with the beating of drums, chanting, and singing. The crowd will be massive, almost a million strong, full of eager devotees and tourists alike to witness the arrival of the procession and the deity and to participate in the festivities. A path laden with smashed coconuts would greet the chariot the entire journey, believed to signify the triumph of good over evil. Once ascended up the steep stairs of the cave and into the shrine, the devotees are blessed by the Hindu priests and the hooks and spears can then be removed. The vow is finally said to be fulfilled.

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Celebrating Mahal na Araw – “Holy Week” in the Philippines

The Philippines is known to be the only predominantly Christian country in the whole of Asia, with its roots of the religion tracing back from circa. 1500. It was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who, by mistake, landed on the island of Cebu during his travels along the spice route. In search of trade materials and foreign lands to colonize, he bargained with Chief Humabon, leader of Cebu, which ended with around 800 newly-baptized Filipino Christians.

The story now lives on in the Philippine’s version of the Holy Week celebration, wherein the foundations of Christianity, namely the life and passion of Jesus Christ, is re-lived and celebrated in one of the grandest, holiest, and most spiritual time in the Philippine calendar.

The Philippine Holy Week celebration is a period of wherein devotees reenact the significant moments of Jesus Christ’s life, from the time of his preaching, going through the time of his death, and until his resurrection. Christians all over the Philippines also use this opportune time in the calendar to reflect what it really means to become a Christian, and to grasp a deeper understanding of one’s significance in the saving from sins done by Christ himself.

Practices done in the Philippines

Despite being called the holy week, the celebration is not just encompassed within 7 days, rather it goes back 40 days prior the first week of April, which starts exactly on Ash Wednesday. This day is the signal of the start of the Lenten Season, wherein Christians devote their time and effort to fasting, abstinence, contemplation, and repentance. This is the time when most Filipinos, including tourists who wish to join in the celebration of Holy Week, reflect on their lives the past years and try to live the upcoming days with a renewed since of gratitude to God, and a self-made promise to revert their sinful lives.

Ash Wednesday is usually celebrated with hearing the Holy Mass for the day, with millions of people going to churches to receive black ashes on their foreheads. These marks are in the shape of a crucifix, and remind devotees that from dust we were made, and to dust we shall return. The ashes used on the foreheads of the devotees are made up of no ordinary ashes; the ashes come from the burnt palm leaves used during the prior year’s Palm Sunday celebration. This is to mark the contemplation of last year’s life and assess whether life was a life full of sin, or a life full of God’s grace.

The next 40 days will now be the official start of the Lenten Season, wherein Filipinos and tourists alike will start the journey of preparation for the coming rebirth of Jesus Christ. The weeks following Ash Wednesday will be devoted for fasting and abstinence, although the fasting is now commonly observed by just the absolute devotees to the religion, where only minimal food and water intake is to be allowed. Now in contemporary Philippine culture, most Christians do not observe the fasting ritual as much anymore. This is because a lot of the devotees are also part of the working-class people, and not working for a couple of days due to hunger and thirst brought about by the fasting could result to huge financial losses for themselves and for their families. Nowadays, Filipino Christians observe their own “personal” fasting; this kind of fasting involves selecting one habit/object that the person is willing to give up as a sign of Lenten sacrifice. The common fasts of the today’s Christian youth involve giving up certain bad habits during the Lenten season like smoking or drinking alcohol, while others give up eating or drinking their favorite food items like hamburgers or soft drinks, all for the sake of sacrificing for the celebration of Christ’s rebirth. Abstinence though, is still very much observed by a lot of people. It is the habit of not eating meat during Fridays of the Lenten season.

One of the more common practices of Filipino Christians is the panata or strictly translating, the vow. It is the process by which a devotee would increase his or her efforts in achieving a particular goal or mission that of which constitutes their panata. Most people who are not that religious tend to make their panata more career-oriented, like increasing the effort they exert on their jobs, or personal vows like being a good friend to someone, and also civic duties which include community service. Still, there are still true-blooded Christians who make sure that their panata remain religion-oriented, like going to various churches all around the country, praying set-prayers at set times of the day, and so on and so forth. These are the kinds of religious sacrifices that a true Christian undergoes, not just for the celebration of Christ’s life, but also for the improvement, reflection, and reformation of one’s own life in a kind that befits the word “Christian”.

Days of Holy Week

The official start of the Holy Week is the 6th Sunday, which is Palm Sunday. It is a festive event within the churches all over the Philippines, contrary to the Lenten sacrifices celebrated before the 6th Sunday. This celebration commemorates Jesus’ re-entry into Jerusalem, albeit knowing that the Jewish officials at the time were already scheming against His downfall from grace. The people welcomed Jesus and His disciples into Jerusalem by means of waving large palm leaves as he entered the town proper. The bigger the church being visited, the more spectacular the display gets, as hundreds or even thousands of palm leaves get raised into the air, waiting to be blessed by the presiding priest. After the mass, the people take their newly-blessed palm leaves and attach them onto window sills and roofs, with the Filipino belief that the blessed palm would bring good luck to the family and household, as well as removing any negativity that might accumulate within the house.

The next days that would come would be Holy Monday and Tuesday, where these days are just reserved for people to relax, de-stress, and reflect for the coming important days of Holy Week. Usually the business establishments and government offices remain open during these days. Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday, which is to commemorate the time when Judas Iscariot spied on Jesus while he was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas decided to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Thursday would then be known as Maundy Thursday, which is to commemorate the celebration of the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples, on the day before he died. The Last Supper is also recognized as the point when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which was when he decided to impart onto His disciples his own body and blood in the form of the bread and wine.

The day that most business establishments and government offices give a holiday is when Good Friday comes. This is the day when Jesus was tortured, made to walk up to Golgotha, which was the place where He was crucified and where He died at approximately 3pm. This is a time of mourning for the entire Roman Catholic Church, where the statues of saints, of Mary, and of Jesus in churches are covered with cloth as a sign of grief. This lasts until after the following day, Black Saturday, where Jesus is already laid inside his tomb and is still considered dead.

The highlight of Holy Week would definitely be Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the rebirth of Jesus Christ and his triumph against sin. Filipinos celebrate the time when the disciples came to visit the tomb of Jesus, only to find out that the big boulder that was used to cover the tomb’s entrance was moved aside by a powerful force. The disciples then just see torn up sheets of cloth, with an angel sitting where Jesus was supposed to be lying down.

There is a buzz all over the country, especially the most Catholic parts of the archipelago. There is a joyful celebration after the mass, and all the cloths covering the statues are all lifted. The priest also wears bright colored robes to signify that the time of mourning and repentance is done, and the time of rejoicing and the starting of a life anew have come. The various malls in the Metro also cook up a lot of activities for people come Easter Sunday, like Easter egg hunts, egg paintings, and various performances. Fasting and abstinence practices also come to a close, thereby permitting people to make merry by eating again the food that they could not eat during Lent.

The next days that would come would be Holy Monday and Tuesday, where these days are just reserved for people to relax, de-stress, and reflect for the coming important days of Holy Week. Usually the business establishments and government offices remain open during these days. Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday, which is to commemorate the time when Judas Iscariot spied on Jesus while he was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas decided to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Thursday would then be known as Maundy Thursday, which is to commemorate the celebration of the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples, on the day before he died. The Last Supper is also recognized as the point when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which was when he decided to impart onto His disciples his own body and blood in the form of the bread and wine.

The day that most business establishments and government offices give a holiday is when Good Friday comes. This is the day when Jesus was tortured, made to walk up to Golgotha, which was the place where He was crucified and where He died at approximately 3pm. This is a time of mourning for the entire Roman Catholic Church, where the statues of saints, of Mary, and of Jesus in churches are covered with cloth as a sign of grief. This lasts until after the following day, Black Saturday, where Jesus is already laid inside his tomb and is still considered dead.

The highlight of Holy Week would definitely be Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the rebirth of Jesus Christ and his triumph against sin. Filipinos celebrate the time when the disciples came to visit the tomb of Jesus, only to find out that the big boulder that was used to cover the tomb’s entrance was moved aside by a powerful force. The disciples then just see torn up sheets of cloth, with an angel sitting where Jesus was supposed to be lying down.

There is a buzz all over the country, especially the most Catholic parts of the archipelago. There is a joyful celebration after the mass, and all the cloths covering the statues are all lifted. The priest also wears bright colored robes to signify that the time of mourning and repentance is done, and the time of rejoicing and the starting of a life anew have come. The various malls in the Metro also cook up a lot of activities for people come Easter Sunday, like Easter egg hunts, egg paintings, and various performances. Fasting and abstinence practices also come to a close, thereby permitting people to make merry by eating again the food that they could not eat during Lent.

Philippine Holy Week Traditions

The pabasa is the recitation of the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ by ways of verse, which comes directly from the Roman Catholic Bible. A group of people are designated to sing parts of the verse, while being accompanied by music in the background. This is a family-style tradition, wherein most families of a particular community or barangay participate in the singing. If a particular family is not yet designated to be the ones to host the singing, they would help contribute in the fixing of food for the guests or will help in the cleaning of the image/statue of Jesus Christ which they would worship upon. The most loyal of devotees would even start their pabasa at Thursday and do not stop up until Friday.

Senakulo is another well-known tradition of Filipino Christians during Holy Week. If the pabasa was the recital of Jesus Christ’s life and suffering in verse, then the Senakulo is the dramatization of his life and sufferings. These plays are most commonly performed in the streets of the barangays or at the compound of the churches themselves. Back in the olden days, people would really dress-up in well-made costumes depicting roman soldiers and officials complete with body armor and robes. Nowadays, with the advent of technology and communication, the presentation of the Senakulo can now be prepared digitally, with LCD projectors being used to present the scenes on a large white screen so that more people can see the performances of the actors.

In the provinces of Pampanga and Rizal, they take Senakulo performances to a whole new level. The true devotees in these provinces would resort to publicly lashing themselves with nails and letting themselves get crucified in public, to show the world their penance and resentment towards a sinful life. These people allow themselves to get whipped repeatedly in the back until they start bleeding, all the while wearing just jeans and a mask around their head. The locals also say that they do this as part of their panata, or their vow to God as a way of thanking Him for the countless blessings He has given them.

The Bisita Iglesia is also another tradition that most Christians observe, since a lot of devotees who are in the younger generation find this tradition fun and exciting. This is also one of the easiest rituals that one can perform. From the name itself, this involves visiting numerous churches all around the neighboring area. This is the time when there is not much traffic on the road, and the staff of the churches just leave minimal lighting turned on to accommodate visitors even at late hours of the night. It is said that if you complete the Bisita Iglesia rounds will have a lucky year ahead of him/her.

Along with the Bisita Iglesia, the practice of the Stations of the Cross accompanies the visiting of the various churches. This is the scene-by-scene reenactment of the events leading up to the crucifixion and ultimately, the rebirth of Jesus Christ. This is done with literal stations, with each one having a picture of the scene being depicted. A short narrative is then said, followed afterwards by short prayers or praying of the rosary. Sometimes, the various stations are found just within the same complex, like a church compound. Other instances involve stations that are far away from each other, sometimes totaling a couple of kilometers worth of walking from the first station to the last station. During these kinds of rituals, the holy rosary is recited along the way onto the next station.

Another modern tradition that Filipino Christians now observe is the showing of religious movies on television. Television networks have taken it up upon themselves to make sure that all people, even those who do not have the time or effort to go out of the house, can at least still manage to watch various television shows and movies depicting the life of Jesus Christ.

A solemn time for everyone

Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a lot of people tend to become burned out with the things that they are doing and sometimes ask God if they are doing the right thing or if there really is a plan for their existence. Ang Mahal Na Araw is an event not just in the Filipino calendar, but in the Roman Catholic calendar as well, that provides people with the breather that they rightfully deserve.

The Philippine celebration of Holy Week is a time of contemplation and self-assessment, where introspection plays a vital part of the process of changing one’s sinful past. Remembering the life and suffering of Jesus Christ is something that both Filipinos and tourists alike can agree on, that the trials and hardships of one man can serve as an example to a kind of life that leads to personal salvation and redemption. The solemnity of the Filipino Holy Week is something unique—since a lot of the country’s population has its roots deeply set in its religion. This only strengthens the fact that a lot of tourists come to the Philippines for Holy Week; it is here that they can truly appreciate what is good, what is the meaning of suffering, and what is the meaning of salvation. Changing society always demands a change of oneself first, and the kind of atmosphere that Holy Week brings is enough to induce that change within people.

The Mahal na Araw is definitely an event worth celebrating, along with the hospitality that comes along with being Filipino and being a Christian, this time of the year marks the start of change for people—change that is both beneficial to themselves and to the people around them.

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