Sri Lanka has over 25 holidays signifying national festivals, some of which include:
1. Sinhalese and Tamil New YearThis festival generally happens mid-April where the entire country is brought together in a festive spirit. The festival is one of the biggest or the biggest celebration in Sri Lanka as it signifies the end of the harvest season or spring. During the festival people ensure that their houses are clean, purchase new clothes and prepare many traditional sweets. The celebrations also have the children applying herbal oils to remove any negative spirits.
Locals tend to burst firecrackers and organize competitive games for all the people to participate. This festival promotes togetherness and forges bonds with people from all religions. It is celebrated either on the 13th or 14th of April every year.
Dates: 12th and 13th April, 2020
Where: Entire country
2. Poson Festival
This is said to be the second most important festival celebrated in Sri Lanka by the Buddhists. It commemorates the religion of Buddhism entering the country in the 3rd century. Just like the Vesak festival, it includes pandals, lanterns and stalls across the island to promote the Buddhist spirit. Something to keep an eye out for is the Mihintale rock outcrop where the Buddha's disciple first preached Buddhist doctrines to the King. The festival happens on the day of the full moon in June and is predominant in Mihintale and Anuradhapura.
Dates: 5th June, 2020
Where: Mihintale and Anuradhapura
3. Vel FestivalIt is one of the most important Hindu and cultural events in Sri Lanka. The festival is significant for the war-god Skandha and his trident (Vel). The Vel is paraded in a massive golden chariot which is pulled by people in white who apply holy ash to their face to start the ceremony. Dancers, elephants and musicians accompany the procession as it moves through the city, the people of Sri Lanka can hear religious songs, bells and drums through the streets. The beautiful parade and music are going to leave you wanting more. This festival happens through July or August every year in Colombo.
Dates: 25th July - 1st August 2020
4. Vesak Poya FestivalA renowned festival in Sri Lanka, Vesak Poya commemorates the three crucial milestones in Buddha's life: birth, enlightenment, and nirvana. Vesak Poya is considered to be one of the most important Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka and celebrated in the first week of May. The celebrations begin on the full moon day and continue for a week where every corner has magical and colourful lanterns called Vesak Kudu, which is a depiction of the light of Buddha.
Well-lit pandals illuminate places like Colombo and Kandy which have artwork from the Jataka stories, whereas the villagers and townspeople light up their homes with clay diyas for the Vesak in Sri Lanka. The festival takes place across the island with the grander celebrations happening in the capital city of Colombo.
The festival brings along many cultural events which showcase Buddhist history about the three stages of 'Buddha's life. The festival engulfs the entire country with joy and is the best possible time to experience the Buddhist culture. Vesak day is also the most significant Buddhist festival celebration in Southeast Asia. This festival takes place throughout May.
Dates: 7th and 8th May, 2020
Where: Entire Country
5. Kandy Esala PeraheraKandy Esala Perahera is also called the festival tooth, and it is a celebration that occurs across Sri Lanka. It is celebrated by more than just Buddhists as the festive performances bring people together. The festive celebrations go on for ten days in either the month of July or August. In 2019, the festival starts on the 5th of August till the 15th of August. The festival happens in Esala (July or August) which is the month which is believed to celebrate the first teaching given by Buddha after he attained enlightenment.
The Kandy Perahera starts with the Kap Situveema or also called the Kappa, in which a blessed young Jackfruit tree is rooted and is re-planted. The in the vicinity of each of the four Devales dedicated to the four guardian gods who are Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the goddess Pattini. Multiple processions are involved in this festival:
a. Kumbal Perahara: This is the first procession of Tooth Relic, which starts with the Kumbal Perahera; it is also called Kumbal Procession. The first Kumbal Perahera shown to infants so that it can drive away Evil Spells and ill-will. It is a tradition that the ceremony parades the streets for five days.
b. Randoli Perahera: It is also known as the Randoli Procession and can be seen only with the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic for five days every year in Kandy.
c. Maha Randoli Perahera: it is also known as the Grand Randoli Procession. The Maha Randoli Perahera is the final procession of the festival. It is the grandest procession of the festival. The elephants come with a garland and decorated with gold and red-stitched costumes.
Dates: 26th June - 6th July 2020
6. Maha Shivarathri FestivalThis is a celebration of Hindu god Shiva it is also called Padmarajarathri. The festival indulges in many prayers, music, dancers and the city is lit up. The festival starts with the devotees taking a purification bath. They then end up carrying water pots to the temples to pour the water on the Shiva Linga (idol) and then proceed to spend the day fasting and meditating at various temples. The festival occurs throughout the island in March.
Dates: 21st February, 2020
7. Nallur FestivalThis is a 25-day festival that is celebrated honouring Lord Murugan, it is a grand and auspicious festival worth witnessing. On different days you may seem various types of processions happening all across the country, but the majority of the festivities are seen in Jaffna. The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is the place to be to experience the festival in its fullest. On the primary day of the festival, the devotees are seen carrying the great deity on a silver throne across the country. While on the other days' various idols from across the country are paraded in chariots.
Dates: August and September 2020Sri Lanka being culturally diverse has lead to the festivals in Sri Lanka to be very unique as there are people of all religions celebrating every festival together. The festivals in Sri Lanka have shown the religious unity and prosperity that Sri Lanka offers.