University of Nottingham Malaysia
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Malaysian Culture

Arguably, there are two things that define Malaysian culture: the food and the festivals. With a mix of different races, religions and cultures, Malaysians celebrate a variety of festivals.

Unique to Malaysia is the “open house” concept where ─ during the various cultural and religious festivals such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali and Christmas ─ friends, families and even strangers would visit the homes of those who are celebrating the festival, to wish them well and enjoy the feast prepared by their hosts.

Listed below are several festivals celebrated by Malaysians, as well as a handy description of their backgrounds.



Hindus celebrate Thaipusam on the tenth month of the Hindu Lunar Calendar. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb).

The word Thaipusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of god Shiva and his wife Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

The festival is best witnessed at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur and in Penang.

Chinese New Year

The Lunar New Year highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese tradition and rituals. This festival is celebrated by the Chinese community in Malaysia. It is commonly known as a time for family reunions, firecrackers, the lion dance, mandarin oranges and giving/collecting ‘Ang Pow’ (Red Packets with money in them).

The festival, which once also marked the beginning of spring in China, begins on the first day of the lunar calendar year (the first day of the new moon) and ends on the 15th day, known as Chap Goh Meh (the last day of the full moon).

Good Friday

Malaysians Christians gather in churches around the country for services to mark the “saddest day” in the Christian calendar.

Many churches hold several services, including one at 3pm – the hour Christ is traditionally said to have resurrected.

Hari Raya Puasa (Eid Ul-Fitri)

The most significant celebration for Muslims, Eid Ul-Fitri, marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The words ‘Hari Raya’ means day of celebration in Malay language.

Known locally as Hari Raya Puasa or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, the celebration is determined by sighting of the new moon on the day before the next month on the Muslim calendar, Syawal.

Hari Raya Haji (Eid Ul-Adha)

Hari Raya Haji literally means the ‘festival of pilgrimage’. This festival is celebrated by Muslims to honour pilgrims who have completed their Haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.

Hari Raya Haji falls on the 10th day of the month of Dzulhijjah, the last month of the Muslim Calendar. Also known as Hari Raya Qurban, which means the festival of sacrifice. Traditionally, a cow or goat is sacrificed as a food offering to the poor.

Deepavali/ Diwali

Celebrated by Hindus as the day the evil Narakasura was slain by Lord Krishna. Signifying the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Deepavali is also known as Diwali, or the Festival of Lights.

Light is significant in Hinduism because it represents goodness. So, during the Festival of Lights, ‘deeps’, or oil lamps, are burned throughout the day and into the night to ward off darkness and evil.


The observance of the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 is celebrated in Malaysia like other parts of the world. It is a time for family and friends, hope and rejoicing, love and understanding, and giving and forgiving.



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