Most (but not all) Sri Lankan festivals follow the lunar calendar, meaning that dates vary considerably from year to year.
Most of the public holidays are based on Buddhist festivals. Buddhist festivals revolve around the days of the full moon poya days. On poya days, Sri Lankan Buddhists traditionally make offerings at their local temple and perform other religious observances.
The islands most important Buddhist festivals are traditionally celebrated with enormous peraheras, or parades, with scores of fabulously dressed elephants accompanied by drummers and dancers.
The government also includes holidays for Islam, Hinduism and Christianity religions in the country’s list of public holidays every year.
Note to tourists visiting Sri Lanka
People often travel on poya days and other official holidays, so transport, public places such as beaches, bathing places and accommodation tends to be busy. There’s also (On theory) a ban on the sale of alcohol, although tourist hotels and guest houses will usually serve for foreign tourists.
Duruthu Poya Marks the first of the Buddha’s three legendary visits to Sri Lanka, celebrated with a spectacular perahera at the Raja Maha Vihara in the Colombo suburb of Kelaniya. The Duruthu poya also marks the beginning of the three-month pilgrimage season to Adam’s Peak.
Significance of Duruthu Pasalosvaka Poya
Thai Pongol Hindu festival, honoring the sun god Surya, Indra (the bringer of rains), and the cow, in no particular order. It’s marked by ceremonies at Hindu temples, after which the first grains of the new paddy harvest are ceremonially cooked in milk in a special pot-the direction in which the liquid spills is thought to indicate good or bad luck in the coming year.
Navam Poya Commemorates the Buddha’s announcement, at the age of 80, of his own impending death, celebrated with a major perahera at the Gangaramaya temple in Colombo. Although this dates only from 1979, it has already become one of the island’s biggest festivals, featuring a procession of some fifty elephants.
Independence Day/ National Day primarily celebrates Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule on 4 February 1948, but is a day to remember Sri Lanka’s struggle for independence from various regimes. This is usually celebrated in Galle Face Green with parades, dances and games.
Maha Sivarathri (Feb/March) Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva, during which devotees perform a one-day fast and an all-night vigil.
Medin Poya Marks the Buddha’s first visit to his father’s palace following his enlightenment.
Bak Poya Celebrates the Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka.
Sinhala and Hindu New Year (April 13-14) Coinciding with the start of the southwest monsoon and the end of the harvest season, the Buddhist and Hindu new year is a family festival during which presents are exchanged and the traditional kiribath (rice cooked with milk and cut into diamond shapes) is prepared. Businesses close, rituals are performed based on Auspicious times (Avurudu Nakath) prepared by Astrologers, new clothes are worn and horoscopes are cast. Usually April 13 is the New Year’s Eve and April 14 is New Year’s Day. Read more on Sinhala and Sinhala and Hindu New Year and Sinhala and Tamil New Year Games in Sri Lanka– Aurudu Kreeda.
Good Friday An Easter Passion play is performed on the island of Duwa, near Negombo.
May day or International Workers Day/ Labour day (1 May) The traditional May Day bank holiday. Main political parties hold rallies in Colombo and other parts of the island on this day.
Vesak Poya The most important of the Buddhist poyas, this is a three-fold celebration commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, all three of which have happened on the day of the vesak poya.
In addition, the last of the Buddha’s three visits to Sri Lanka is claimed to have been on a Vesak poya day. Vesak gives prominence to “Amisa Pooja” (Vesak decorations, Dansala, Pandals) and “Prathipatthi Pooja” (Religious activities) by way of observing both rituals and precepts. Lamps are lit in front of houses, and platforms decorated with scenes from the life of the Buddha (pandals) are erected throughout the country. Buses and cars are decorated with streamers, and free food (from rice and curry to Vesak sweetmeats) is distributed in roadside booths (dansala). Meanwhile, devout Buddhists visit temples, meditate and fast. The day after the Vesak poya is also a public holiday.
Vesak also marks the end of the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season.
Poson Poya Second only in importance to Vesak, poson poya commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Mahinda, marked by mass pilgrimages to Anuradhapura, while thousands of white-robed pilgrims climb to the summit off Mihintale. Read the Story behind the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Id-Ul-Fitr (Ramazan Festival Day) – This is a Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan
Esala Poya Celebrates the Buddha’s first sermon and the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka. The lunar month of Esala is the season of festivals, marked by elephant peraheras at Kataragama, Dondra, Bellanwila (a southern Colombo suburb) and, most flamboyantly, the great Esala Perahera in Kandy (late July to early Aug), Sri Lanka’s most extravagant festival.
Esala Perahara Kataragama (late July/early August) Festival at Kataragama (held at the same time as the Esala perahera) during which devotees fire-walk and indulge in various forms of ritual self-mutilation, piercing their skin with hooks and weights, and driving skewers through their cheeks and tongues.
Nikini Poya Marks the retreat of the Bhikkhus following the Buddha’s death, commemorated by a period of fasting and of retreat for the monastic communities.
Vel (July/August) Colombo’s most important Hindu festival, dedicated to Skanda/ Kataragama and featuring two exuberant processions during which the god’s chariot and vel (spear) are carried across the city from the Pettah to temples in Wellawatta and Bambalapitiya. During the Vel, the gilded chariot of Murugan (Skanda), the Hindu war god, is ceremonially hauled from the Kathiresan kovil to a kovil at Bambalapitiya.
Nallur Festival Held at the Nallur Temple in Jaffna in honour of Skanda, this is the biggest and longest festival in Sri Lanka, a mammoth 26-day affair, ending on Nikini poya.
Binara Poya Commemorates the Buddha’s journey to heaven to preach to his mother and other deities.
Id-Ul-Alha (Hajjhi Festival Day), is a Muslim festival marking the beginning of pilgrimages to Mecca.
Dussehra (Sep/ Oct) Also known as Durga Puja, this Hindu festival honours Durga and also commemorates the day of Rama’s victory over Ravana.
Vap Poya Marks the Buddha’s return to earth and the end of the Buddhist period of fasting.
Deepavali (late Oct/ early Nov) The Hindu Festival of Lights (equivalent to north India’s Diwali), commemorating the return from exile of Rama, hero of the Ramayana, with the lighting of lamps in Tamil households, symbolic of the triumph of good over evil, and the wearing of new clothes.
II Poya Commemorates the Buddha’s ordination of sixty disciples.
Unduvap Poya Celebrates the arrival of the Bo tree sapling in Anuradhapura, brought by Ashoka’s daughter, Sangamitta.
Milad-Un-Nabi (Holy Prophet’s Birthday)
Christmas (25 December)
Christian New Year’s Eve (31 December}.
Sri Lankan Tourism Events in 2017
You can find an exact list for forth-coming events at Sri Lanka Tourism Website.
Download Tourism Events Calendar 2017
Official Public Holidays in Sri Lanka
|January 12 Thursday 2017||Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|January 14 Saturday 2017||Tamil Thai Pongal Day||* =|
|February 04 Saturday 2017||National Day||* =|
|February 10 Friday 2017||Navam Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|February 24 Friday 2017||Mahasivarathri Day||* =|
|March 12 Sunday 2017||Madin Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|April 10 Monday 2017||Bak Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|April 13 Thursday 2017||Day prior to New Year Day||* =|
|April 14 Friday 2017||Sinhala & Tamil New Year Day||* =|
|April 14 Friday 2017||Good Friday||* =|
|May 01 Monday 2017||May Day||* =|
|May 10 Wednesday 2017||Vesak Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|May 11 Thursday 2017||Day Following Vesak Poya Day||* =|
|June 08 Thursday 2017||Poson Full Moon Poya Day *||=|
|June 26 Monday 2017||Id-Ul-Fitr (Ramazan Festival Day)||* =|
|July 08 Saturday 2017||Esala Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|August 07 Monday 2017||Nikini Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|September 01 Friday 2017||Id-Ul-Alha (Hadji Festival Day)||* =|
|September 05 Tuesday 2017||Binara Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|October 05 Thursday 2017||Vap Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|October 18 Wednesday 2017||Deepavali Festival Day||* =|
|November 03 Friday 2017||Ill Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|December 01 Friday 2017||Milad-Un-Nabi (Holy Prophet’s Birthday)||* =|
|December 03 Sunday 2017||Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day||* =|
|December 25 Monday 2017||Christmas Day||* =|
* Public Holidays, = Bank Holidays