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Duruthu Poya

The initial full moon day of the Gregorian calendar, commemorates the Buddha’s first of three visits to Sri Lanka. The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya or the Kelaniya Temple, near Colombo, hosts a perahera, literally “procession”, to mark this symbolic event. The perahera is a spectacular aspect of Sri Lanka’s festivals in which an array of traditionally attired dancers, drummers, whip crackers, acrobats and enrobed elephants, participate. For visitors it’s one of Sri Lanka’s most appealing cultural attractions.

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Thai Pongal

The Hindu harvest festival is celebrated on January 14 in Hindu homes and temples throughout the country. Worship at the kovil (temple) is mandatory for adherents to the faith. Special rituals are held at home too. such as the cooking and ceremonial consumption of traditional sweetened rive called pongal. An observance of creative nature, kolam, involves making intricate floor motifs with flour. In rural areas, a sequel known as Madu Pongal follows. Domestic animals are washed and fed; auspicious red colors smeared on their foreheads, and finally are garlanded with marigolds.

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Kala Pola

Colombo’s grandest open-air festival is held on the third Sunday of January at the exhibition grounds of the Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens. Sri Lankan artists and sculptors from all over the island are given a chance to display their creative exhibits in a convivial atmosphere filled with music and song.

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Galle Literary Festival

The end of January is home to the very popular Galle Literary Festival, a special four day event that welcomes world class writers and audiences from all around the world to take part in and witness a host of talks, workshops and literary events at venues in and around this heritage city.

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Independence Day

Celebrating Independence from Great Britain in 1948, falls on February 4. Parades, dances, processions and national games are organized all over the island, but the main event is held in Colombo, attended by many politicians.

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Gangaramaya Navam Perahera

Started in 1979, the Gangaramaya Navam Peraherahas since developed into one of the Sri Lanka’s finest. Held at night on Navam Poya at the Gangaramaya Vihara in the heart of Colombo, it’s a popular tourist attraction that can be viewed from stands located along the roadside of the procession’s route. The fascinating preparations, particularly the arrival of over 100 tame elephants at Viharamahadevi Park during the daytime, can also be observed.

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Maha Sivarathri

The Hindu festival of Maha Sivarathri, or “the great night of Siva”, is celebrated in late February or early March in Hindu homes and temples across the country. This is the most important religious event of the year for the “Shaivites”, who comprise the majority of Sri Lanka’s Hindus. It is a deeply symbolic occasion celebrating the charming of Lord Shiva by his consort Parvati through penance. Poojas are held at kovils during the day and can be witnessed by visitors, and every Hindu household keeps an all-night vigil.

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Sri Lankan New Year

This occurs usually on the 13th & 14th of April, is a non-religious festival celebrated by the whole population. Originally a harvest thanksgiving, it does not begin at midnight on the designated day, because, like many events in Sri Lanka, the precise (‘auspicious’) timings are decided upon astrologically. It is believed New Year commences not when the old one ends, but a few hours later. The interval between the old and the new is called nonagathe or “neutral period”, during which all activities cease. When the New Year commences, fresh activities begin: a fire is lit and new clothes are worn. Then comes the ganu-denu, or “give and take” in which money is exchanged.

The festival culminates when oil is mixed with a herbal paste and a respected elder anoints the head of each family member. Over the festive period traditional games, both indoor and out, such as kotta pora (pillow fighting) and havari hengima (hiding the wig) played in homes and villages brings together families and whole communities. Many shops are closed for up to a week over New Year as people travel en masse with gifts and specially prepared festive food to offer family and friends.

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The most important Buddhist full moon day is in May Vesak Poya- which marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing away (parinirwana). Large pandals (bamboo frameworks) hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha are erected in the streets, illuminated by flashing colored light bulbs. Roadside dansalas (stalls) offering free food and soft drinks to passers-by are notable features of the event. Among the many striking Vesak decorations are intricate paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes, and little clay coconut oil lamps that flicker throughout the island. Visitors to Sri Lanka at this time will not fail to witness and be moved by the beautiful displays of lanterns outside every Buddhist home, business and temple.

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Poson Poya is in second importance to Vesak since it commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 247BC. The focus of this festival is the ancient capital of the country, Anuradhapura, and the mountainous Mihintale Temple reached by 1840 steps, where king Devanampiyathissa was converted to Buddhism in the third century BC. During Poson, the mountain is illuminated and deveotees climb the steps in their thousands to pay homage to the event.

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Kandy Esala Perahera

Sri Lanka’s most prominent festival is the magnificent Kandy Esala Perahera, held in the Hill capital of Kandy over 10 days in late July or early August and climaxing on Esala Poya. The perahera’s origins date back to the third century BC, but the modern event originated in the mid 18th Century when the kandyan king decreed that once a year the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, kept at the Dalada Maligawa or temple of tooth, should be displayed in a procession for the people to venerate.


Today, thousands including many visitors flock to Kady during this dazzling ten-day festival, where, under a star studded moon-filled sky, the streets of the city appear as flowing threads of fire, colour, and stylized motion, mostly created by flaming torches and enrobed and light bulb encrusted elephants led by the Maligawa Tusker, on whose back is a golden casket containing the relic. The air is filled with pulsating throb of a multitude of drums, the ethereal – sounding wail of wind instruments, the wicked crack of whips, even the occasional trumpeting of an elephant. There is quieter participation too, from stilt walkers, acrobats, and the most aesthetically pleasing the traditionally important of all the performers, the dancers.

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Kataragama Esala Festival

In the southeast of the island, the sacred site of Kataragama is brought to life with its unique annual Esala Festival, which commemorates the victory of the six-faced, 12 armed Hindu war god Skanda, over an army of demons at Kataragama. Naturally, many Hindu devotees make the pilgrimage to the shrine, but Buddhists, Muslims, and some Christians also honor this god. During this 10-day festival, pilgrims demonstrate their sincerity by performing astonishing acts of penance and self-mortification. These include walking barefoot atop hot coals and spearing themselves with hooks.

At Dondra, Sri Lanka’s southernmost point, just five kilometers away from Matara, a notable festival dedicated to Lord Vishnu featuring low-country dances, traditional rituals, a perahera, and handicrafts fair, is held in July. During the same month and commencing on the esala poya day is a seven day festival with perahera in Unawatuna, near Galle, where devotees descend on the village and beach.


At bellanwila, just south of Colombo another perahera takes place during the week-long poya festivities held at the historic Rajamaha Vihara.

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Hindus celebrate a festival known as vel in July to mark the triumph of Lord Murugan (another aspect of the war god Skanda) over evil powers. A magnificent silver-plated chariot bearing a statue of Lord Murugan leaves a kovil in the Pettah, a commercial district of Colombo, and is led by a procession to another kovil in Bambalapitiya, followed by musicians and devotees smashing coconuts and singing songs of praise to Lord Shiva. Along the route, there are stalls selling sweet delicacies, souvenirs, and handicrafts to passers-by.

The munneswaram temple three kilometers from Chilaw, is another focus of celebration for Hindus in July as they celebrate with the fire-walking in devotion to Lord Shiva while another small festival is held at the seaside shrine of Udappuwa.

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Nallur Festival

The Nallur Festival in Jaffna in August is the island’s longest festival. Spanning 25 days of vibrant chariot processions, drumming, dancing and acts of self-mortification, held in honor of the war god Skanda.

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The hindu festival Deepavali or the festival of ligts (known as india and elsewhere as Diwali) celebrates an aspect of epic poem, the Ramayanaya – the homecoming of the hero, the indian Prince Rama after a 14 year exile in the forest and his victory over Lanka’s eveil king ravana. In the legend, the people welcomed Rama by lighting rows of lamps, and that’s exactly what happens today. Devotees all over the country wear new clothes and cook sweet dishes to propitiate the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, who is also associated with the festival.

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Sri Pada Pilgrimage Season

December brings The Sri Pada pilgrimage season, which lasts until Sri Lankan New Year (mid-April). Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian pilgrims ascend the 2234m mountain to a temple that bears the ‘footprint’ of the Buddha, Lord Shiva or Adam, according to the differing beliefs, this is yet another example of how different faith in Sri Lanka share sacred sites and symbols. The climb begins from the village of Dalhousie shortly after midnight in order to reach the summit by sunrise, when a spectacular triangular shadow of the peak known as ira sevaya or service of the sun foreshortens in spectacular fashion. Pilgrims ring a bell to indicate the number of visits they have made to the summit.

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Muslim Festivals

Muslim festivals follow the Islamic lunar calendar. Having either 354 or 355 days in a year, the lunar calendar is shorter than the typical solar calendar or Georgian year. This means that Islamic holy days retreat at a rate of between 10 and 12 days each successive solar year, and therefore have no fixed day. Each muslim celebration typically includes prayers and sermons at the mosque, the distribution of alms among friends and villagers, and family oriented celebrations. Muslim festivals are typically held without much public display and with little involvement outside of the Muslim community.

The most important festivals in Sri Lanka are: Milad un Nabi or the prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Id Ul Fithr or the end of ramamdan and Id Ul Alha or Hajj festival day. At Milad Un Nabi, Muslims celebrate the birth of the most important prophet in Islam by listening to speeches about his life and his teachings. Id Ul Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, with festivities that often go on for three days. The celebrations surrounding Id Ul Alha, a festival to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God, often go on for four days. During Id, Muslims recite special prayers, exchange gifts between families and friends and prepare special meat dishes that are shared with the poorer muslim community.

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Christmas in Sri Lanka

Although Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country (only 7% of people are Christians) Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday by everyone across community. The brightly lit streets and malls and tall Christmas trees brings light to the streets of Colombo. The celebrations pin along the way in corporate companies and big hotels. On the eve of Christmas (24th December), Churches hold midnight mass to herald the dawn of Christmas. At midnight thousands of firecrackers are lit – a very popular Sri Lankan practice at any major festival.

December is usually a good month to travel to Sri Lanka. Along the coastal belts of southern and western, the rainfall starts to decline; plenty of sunshine and dry days are expected means the peak beach conditions return. Kandy & the Hill country stay a brilliant green after the plenty of monsoon rains.


How do you say Merry Christmas in Sri Lanka?
In Sinhala, spoken in Sri Lanka, Merry Christmas is ‘Suba Naththalak Wewa’ (සුබ නත්තලක් වේවා).
Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.


Booking your holiday in advance is advisable if you do decide to be in Sri Lanka during Christmas, hotels do get very busy and they run short of rooms from 20th December up until 10th January. It’s always good to get in touch with our Tripavi consultants who will guide you to your perfect Christmas vacation. Take advantage of our early bird offers and save cost if you do tend to arrive early for Christmas.

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