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Sri Lanka

Festivals in Sri Lanka

by Hannah Lockett | January 15, 2020

Being home to four main religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity – there are many festivals and public holidays to celebrate in Sri Lanka. From religious festivals to harvest festivals, there are a plethora of reasons for communities to gather together and celebrate.

We have listed below, some of the many events you may wish to combine with a holiday to Sri Lanka.


Thai Pongal

Thai Pongal has been celebrated for over 1,000 years and is one of the most cherished of Tamil holidays. It starts on the first day of Thai on the traditional Tamil calendar, which usually falls in mid-January, and marks the start of the sun’s six-month journey northbound. This important harvest festival focuses on honouring the sun god ‘Surya’ as well as cattle, both of which play an integral role in bringing a good harvest. During the first day of Thai Pongal, families decorate their homes with banana leaves and colourful kolam patterns made with rice flour and boil rice in milk along with spices, nuts and raisins to share with locals. On the second day, the cattle that help farmers in their rice fields are honoured by being bathed, painted with coloured dyes and given beautiful garlands that hang around their neck and horns.


Vesak Poya – Festival of lights

Vesak Poya falls on the full moon in March, as according to the Buddhist moon calendar, it’s the first full moon of the new year. Vesak Poya is a triple celebration of Buddha. commemorating the day Buddha was born, found enlightenment, and passed away. The festival takes over most of the island, as every home and business hang paper lanterns that are lit at night, and Baudaloka Mawata and Biera Lake are particularly pretty. People traditionally hand out food and drink to passers-by on the streets and worshippers spend hours at the temples.


Sinhala and Tamil New Year

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year marks the beginning of the Lunar year and usually takes place in April. The fun-filled colorful festivities take place all around the island. Just like the Poya holidays, all formal or government businesses close and the island takes on a relaxed festive state. This is a festival celebrated by the entire population. Sri Lankans love friendly competitive games and the New Year is when you will find these kinds of games happening everywhere.


Nallur Festival - Jaffna

The remarkable Kandaswamy Temple is the focus of this 25-day festival where thousands of followers congregate. Men dress in white sarongs, and women wear their best saris. Throughout Nallur there are many parades featuring floats, performers and glistening thrones being carried around town. The 24th day of Nallur marks ‘Ther’, when a huge chariot is pulled by hundreds of men and becomes the biggest night of the holiday. The following day, entranced devotees drive skewers through their bodies and make their way to the temple to the beat of drums, believing that God will protect them from any pain.



Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights, it is the celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana, symbolizing the defeat of light over darkness. Homes will be decorated with little clay lamps and buildings and streets are illuminated in celebration. In Western calendars, it takes place usually in October or November. Deepavali celebrations last for five days but the biggest and most important day is the last. Devotees will wear new clothes and give each other gifts, usually sweets treats.



Even though only about 20% or less of the population in Sri Lanka is Christian, Christmas is still a big celebration on the island. Every mall, store, business, and bakery is colourfully decorated with trees, lights, and garlands. Religious places or businesses owned by Christians will have nativity scenes. All big hotels serve Christmas dinner on the 24th. Don’t forget to try the Sri Lankan Christmas cake, the richest and most spiced cake in the world.


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