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Religious Festivals


Religious festivals in Penang are evidence that people of different races and religions can live together in harmony. Sure, there are several taboos and practices which are not accepted by the others but instead of openly fighting them, they are tolerated quietly. The believers of the other religions simply ignore the rituals performed which are not related to their own beliefs and live their lives as usual. The invisible boundaries are observed by mutual respect.

Thaipusam Ching Ming
Left: Thaipusam
Right: Ching Ming

ketupat icon
Ketupat is the icon for Eid in Malaysia

However, major religious festivals are celebrated together. Open houses are really open to everyone. Before the towns became cities and the cost of living was not so high, people really spent time, effort and money to make extravagant parties.

Now, due to economic reasons, time constraint and also different neighborly values, a typical open house normally is not as lavish as it used to be.

I find that the older people get, the less sociable they become, barring a few special cases. If you see children, you can see that they can mix and play freely together, even without having to speak the same languages.

Malaysia must be the only country in the world which has so many public holidays related to religious festivals. There are at least 14 days of these holidays in a year throughout the country not counting the smaller festivals which are only observed in certain states. Some people might say this is the reason why the country is not advancing as fast as it should be. Perhaps this is due to too many holidays that reduce productivity.

3rd day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the spitting oil ceremony
3rd day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the spitting oil ceremony

There are four major religions in the country: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. There is a path in George Town which is known as the Street of Harmony because there are four major religions having their house of worships practically next to each other.

Between those religions, there are also Taoism, Confucianism, Sikh. It is not strange that the same household celebrates Chinese New Year as well as Christmas. Or, Deepavali together with Wesak Day. The reason is because, under one roof, there could be individuals with different religious beliefs. Inter-marriage between the races also make these celebrations very interesting to observe.

autumn lantern festival
Welcome autumn!

So, for the Muslims, the fasting month of Ramadhan is nicely ended with Hari Raya Puasa (Eid-Ul-Fitri). There are many events associated with Ramadhan. Two months after Aidil Fitri later there is another Hari Raya Haji which celebrates the pilgrimage rituals in Mecca.

For the Hindus, Deepavali and Thaipusam are among the major celebrations. The Mahamariamman temple at Little India is the starting point for Thaipusam street procession.

Christians from all walks of life celebrate Easter, Good Friday, Christmas and also the patron saints days.

For the Chinese, Thai, Eurasians and Indians who are Buddhists, they celebrate Wesak Day.

dragon incense for hungry ghost festival
Dragon incense for hungry ghost festival

Besides religious festivals, the Chinese are also noted for having so many other celebrations related to their ancestral worship. There are Chinese New Year, hungry ghost festivals, lantern festivals, Chap Goh Mei, Moon festival and many others too many to mention here. You may read in more details here about the description of Chinese Festivals.

For Malaysians, almost everything revolves around food. The religious festivals are the perfect times to indulge in tasting all kinds of food. The variety and the creativity of the cooks is really amazing. This is the time when traditional cuisine is much appreciated and when people make the effort to make delicate, time consuming fares for a celebration that is supposed to come only once a year.

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