The spring season plays host to numerous festivals and celebrations throughout Asia. Here’s a pick of a few of our favourites
Being one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Ramadan is considered one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, a time of prayer, contemplation, and self-reflection. During this period, Muslims observe fasting between two of their five daily prayers – Fajr at dawn and Maghrub at dusk. Fasting is considered to be an act of worship, which enables Muslims to feel closer to God and strengthen their spiritual health and self-discipline. The end of this month-long fasting period is marked by Eid al-Fitr.
Ching Ming Festival
Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, Ching Ming – meaning ‘clean and bright’ in English – is a time for the Chinese to honour their ancestors and pay respects to the dead. The festival is traditionally observed in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, as well as by ethnic Chinese populations in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. Customs and traditions include cleaning tombs of the deceased and the burning of offerings such as joss sticks and joss paper at the burial site.
Thailand’s most famous festival, Songkran is an important event in the Buddhist calendar, marking the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. It starts on April 13, Songkran Day, where processions of images of Buddha take place all around the country. A huge part of the celebrations revolve around water; crowds of people gather in the streets and throw water at each other using buckets, water pistols, hoses... even elephants get involved using their trunks!
Bisket Jatra marks the start of the new year according to the Bikram Sambat, the official Nepalese calendar. According to legend, the festival marks the death of serpents which had cursed a local princess. The most vivid festivities are held in Bhaktapur, 13km from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. The main event being a tug-of-war between the Thane (upper) and Kone (lower) part of town, whereby a chariot carrying a statue of Lord Bhairava is pulled in both directions by hundreds of people.
Sri Lankan New Year
Sinhalese New Year – known as Aluth Avurudu – and Tamil New Year – Puthandu – fall on the same day in April in Sri Lanka. Customs include cleaning the family home, the lighting of oil lamps and preparation of massive feasts; street parties see local youths taking part in a variety of games, such cart races, beauty contests, pole climbing competitions. Children also pay respects to their elders, who in turn bless them with gifts of money, considered the first financial transaction of the year.
Easter is a Christian festival in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Easter Sunday is a culmination of the 40 days of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday a represents a period of fasting, prayer, and repentance of sins. Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, is a day of mourning and reflection. In the Philippines, penitence (penitensya) is practiced by self-flagellation and crucifixions. These events often draw big crowds of devotees and tourists.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan (the name literally means ‘feast of breaking the fast’). It is celebrated for one to three days, depending on the country. Before perfoming the Eid prayer, Muslims take part in Zakat-ul-fitr, an obligatory act giving to the poor and needy in the form of food or money. Eid is celebrated around the world in different ways, but follow a common theme of feasting, celebration, worship and looking after the less fortunate.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Coinciding with the week of Buddha’s birthday in Hong Kong, Pak Tai Temple plays host to the Cheung Chau bun festival. Bustling with visitors and locals alike, celebrations include lion dances, colourful parades (in which participants dress as folkloric characters), and the festival’s main event, the bun scrambling competition. On the final day of the festival, contestants compete by climbing the 60-foot bamboo towers, collecting the sweet buns attached to the tower as they go.
Buddha’s birthday commemorates the birth of the Guatama Buddha, regarded as the founder of Buddhism. The festival is observed annually on the Sunday nearest to the full moon in May. Buddhists spend this sacred day at temples meditating, chanting prayers and offering alms to Buddhist monks. Special efforts are made to bring happiness to the less fortunate, such as the aged, the handicapped, and the sick. Some Buddhists will distribute gifts in the form of cash, or volunteer for charitable causes.
One of the most colourful and vibrant festivals in the Philippines, Pahiyas takes place in the town of Lucban, Quezon. It is a celebration to pay homage to the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro Labrador, for a bountiful harvest. In town, the streets and houses are decorated with Lucban’s best agricultural wares, such as vegetables, fruits, Lucban longganisa (Filipino pork sausage) and colorful kipings – traditional Filipino leaf-shaped wafers made from glutinous rice.