The numerous celebrations of the Sri Lankan calendar illustrate the religious plurality of the island. Sri Lanka is an island of tolerance where the Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Christian religious communities coexist in harmony. Nearly all religions’s holy days are celebrated. You can witness a celebration, or a procession during the numerous holidays – in fact, it’s one of the countries in the world with the most holidays ! The days of full moon, Poya Days, are holidays by tradition. Buddhists go to temples. Plates charged with flowers and food are given as offerings. Small oil lamps which symbolize wisdom are lit and incense is burned as a sign of purity.
Discover celebrations around the year
Tamil Day Pongal Thai – usually the 14th of January. It’s a Tamil celebration and one of the principal religious days of the Hindu calendar. It’s the celebration of monsoons and of abundance. Rice and fruits are offered to the gods to render grace upon them and to ensure good harvests. Houses are completely cleaned and decorated, farm animals and cows in particular are washed and honored. Visitors are welcomed with a feast.
Duruthu Full Moon Day Poya – Celebrates the first visit of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. The historic temple of Kelaniya Raja Maha, 10KM North of Colombo, organizes a great celebration to commemorate this anniversary.
National Sri Lankan Day – The 4th of February is the national celebration day, day of Sri Lankan Independance. Military parade in Colombo.
Navam Full Moon Day Poya – in the memory of the two disciples of the Buddha but also the first Buddhist council held after the death of Buddha. On this occasion, a procession is held on the shores of the Gangaramaya in Colombo.
Maha Shivastri – Hindu commemoration for organized for the celebration of Shiva as it is supposed to be His favourite day.
New year – Cinghalese and Tamil celebration. It is celebrated between the 12th and 15th of April. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are worn and mil rice, kiribath in Cingalese, is prepared in new dishes for the whole family. All celebrations are done under the sign of hospitality.
Bak Full Moon Day Poya – Celebrated the second visit of the Buddha in Sri Lanka in order to make peace between two sparring local war chiefs. This moon marks the end of the pilgrimage period a Adam’s Peak which begins in December.
1st of May – May Day, celebration of work
Vesak Poya Day – one of the greatest Buddhist celebrations. It celebrates the life of the Buddha, his birth, his illumination and his departure. It happens during a Poya Day. This celebration reminds the empathy due to all living beings. It’s also a colored day, which brightens the streets and houses of superb handmade paper lanterns and fabulous illuminations. This celebration also sees the installation of stands in the streets, which offer free drinks and food to the passerbys.
Poson Poya Day – This Poya day commemorates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The celebrations are principally located in Mihintale and Anuradhapura, the ancient capital city, towards which the pilgrims converge.
Esala Pya – Esala (usually in July/August) traditionally marks the beginning of great processions. For Buddhists, the full moon of Esala is an important Poya Day for it commemorates the anniversary of the first commandment of the Buddha during the pre-christian era, which created the bases of Buddhist teachings. Numerous celebrations mark the event throughout the country, in Kandy in particular where the relic of the Tooth is celebrated. She is exposed on the back of an elephant through the city. Thousands of followers come to see the traditionmal dancers and musicians accompany the relic (Perahera). When a full moon’s evening comes, the celebration reachest its apogy. Up to a hundred elephants parade together of which many are “decorated”. The celebrations take multiple days and are very renowned throughout the whole island.
Id-Ul-Fitr – End of Ramadan – The celebration of the end of fasting is an islamic religious day celebrating the end of 29 and 30 days of fasting.
Nikini Full Moon Day Poya – Celebrates the end of Kandy Esala Perahera
Vel – Hindu celebration which happens in the streets of Colombo and Jaffna. Processions and penitence acts. Stands swelling with fruits, sugar canes, handmade objects and other souvenirs welcome the specators along the whole trail.
Id-Ul-Alha – Adha is a worldwide islamic celebration of thee days with pilgrimages to Meccah.
Deepavali – Hindu celebration of light, usually celebrated in November in honor of the victory of good over evil, both symbolized in the story of an ancient war waged by the god Sive and mischievous demons. For this occasion, Hindu temples organize religious ceremonies (pooja), the houses are lit with oil lamps, vegetarian dishes are prepared and new clothes are worn.
Daman’s Peak – The season of pilgrimages opens with the Poya of December and lasts until April/May at the moment of Vesak. If you feel like it, you can climb the 5200 steps of Sri Pada, bathed in the followers’ fidelity. Begin your ascencion near 2 in the morning to witness a sumlime sunrise at the summit !
Unduvap Poya – This day of full moon commemorates Sangamitta, who brought seeds of the sacred tree of the Bodhi from India to Anuradhapura in 288 AD. The tree from which it originates, the Sri Maha Bodhi, is considered the oldest in the world. The ceremonies attract thousands of participants.
Christmas – The day of Christmas is traditionally celebrated in Sri Lanka. the festive season begins in the middle of December by the Christmas sales and the decoration and illumination of the stores in the streets of the city. Midnight assemblies are held in churches, where christmas songs are sung. The most impotant catholic celebrations are held in Madhu, a place of pilgrimage (in the center-north area of the country), at St. Anne in Talawila (near Puttalam in the north-east province) in March and July and at Duwa near Negombo.