Holidays and Festivals in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a land of vibrant culture and traditions, celebrates a myriad of festivals and holidays that reflect its rich historical legacy and religious diversity. From the full moon Poya days that mark significant events in Buddhism to the colorful Hindu festivals and national commemorations, each celebration has its unique charm and significance. These festivities not only offer a glimpse into the island's cultural fabric but also bring communities together, fostering unity and joy. In this piece, we delve into some of the most celebrated holidays and festivals in Sri Lanka, exploring their origins, how they are observed, and what they mean to the people of this beautiful island.

Duruthu Poya Day

Duruthu Poya Day commemorates the first visit of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka on the full moon day of January, making it one of the most important [Buddhist festivals] in the country. This day marks the beginning of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is celebrated with great reverence. Devotees visit temples to participate in religious activities such as observing sil (practicing meditation and mindfulness), offering prayers, and partaking in processions. The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, a temple built on the site believed to be visited by Buddha, hosts one of the most elaborate celebrations, attracting thousands of pilgrims and visitors.

Tamil Thai Pongal Day

Tamil Thai Pongal Day is a significant Hindu festival that falls in January and celebrates the harvest season. Dedicated to the Sun God, Surya, it marks the end of the winter solstice and the start of the sun's northward journey. Families prepare a special dish called Pongal, made of new rice, milk, and jaggery, cooked in clay pots. Homes are cleaned and decorated, cattle are bathed and adorned, and people wear new clothes to express gratitude for the bountiful harvest and to welcome prosperity into their homes. This festival fosters a sense of community and thanksgiving among the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

National Day

National Day, celebrated on the 4th of February, marks Sri Lanka's independence from British rule in 1948. It is a day of national pride and is observed with parades, dances, and national flag-hoisting ceremonies across the country. The main celebration takes place in Colombo with a grand parade, including the military, cultural dances, and performances that showcase the country's diversity and heritage. It is a day for Sri Lankans to reflect on their history, achievements, and aspirations for the future, fostering a sense of national unity and pride.

Navam Poya Day

Navam Poya Day, observed in February, holds dual significance as it commemorates the appointment of Buddha's two chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, and the first-ever Buddhist council held immediately after Buddha's passing. The Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo conducts the most famous celebration for Navam Poya, known for its spectacular Navam Perahera, a grand procession featuring elephants, traditional dancers, drummers, and monks. This vibrant event draws locals and tourists alike, offering a captivating insight into Sri Lanka's Buddhist traditions and cultural splendor.

Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, celebrated with devotion and fervor by Hindus in Sri Lanka. It falls on the 14th night of the new moon during the month of Phalguna (February or March). Devotees observe fasting, perform all-night vigils, and visit Shiva temples to offer prayers and milk to the Shiva Lingam, symbolizing purification of the soul. The festival emphasizes overcoming darkness and ignorance, seeking Lord Shiva's blessings for wisdom, health, and prosperity. Maha Shivaratri brings together families and communities in a solemn observance of faith and spirituality.

Medin Poya Day

Medin Poya Day is celebrated in March and marks the occasion when Buddha visited his hometown, Kapilavastu, for the first time since attaining enlightenment. It is a day for Buddhists to reflect on the values of family, the importance of returning to one's roots, and the teachings of Buddha about detachment and the path to enlightenment. Temples across Sri Lanka hold special ceremonies where devotees gather to offer alms, observe sil, and participate in processions. Medin Poya encourages the practice of Dhamma in daily life and the importance of spiritual growth.

Bak Poya Day

Bak Poya Day in April commemorates Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka to reconcile two warring local leaders, preventing bloodshed and uniting them in peace. This day underscores the principles of conflict resolution, peace, and harmony taught by Buddhism. Devotees engage in religious observances, including visiting temples, offering alms, and participating in meditation sessions. Bak Poya serves as a reminder of the power of compassion, understanding, and the importance of peace in human relations, resonating with Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Sinhala and Tamil New Year's Day

Sinhala and Tamil New Year's Day, celebrated in mid-April, is one of the most cherished cultural festivities in Sri Lanka, marking the end of the harvesting season and the beginning of the New Year. This festival is unique as it brings together the Sinhala and Tamil communities in a shared celebration of new beginnings, unity, and prosperity. Traditional customs such as lighting the hearth, preparing sweetmeats, engaging in games, and observing auspicious times for various activities are followed. The exchange of gifts and visits among family and friends strengthens social bonds, making it a joyous occasion filled with goodwill and festivity.

May Day

May Day, observed on the 1st of May, is an international day celebrating workers' rights and labor solidarity worldwide, and Sri Lanka is no exception. It is marked by parades, rallies, and meetings organized by labor unions, political parties, and workers' groups across the country. This day serves as a reminder of the struggles and achievements of the labor movement and its ongoing efforts to improve working conditions, wages, and rights for workers. May Day is not only a day of political significance but also an opportunity for communities to come together in support of social and economic justice.

Vesak Poya Day

Vesak Poya Day is the most sacred of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, celebrated on the full moon day of May. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Buddhahood), and passing away (Parinibbana) of Lord Buddha. The entire country is adorned with lanterns, lights, and colorful decorations. Devotees visit temples to observe sil and engage in various religious activities. The practice of giving, known as "Dansal," is widespread, where free food and drinks are offered to the public. Vesak is a time for reflection on the teachings of Buddha and the practice of love, peace, and harmony towards all beings.

Poson Poya Day

Poson Poya Day, celebrated in June, marks the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 236 BC by Arahath Mahinda, who converted King Devanampiyatissa and his followers. This event is considered a cornerstone in the country's history, leading to the establishment of Buddhism as its major religion. The city of Anuradhapura, where Arahath Mahinda's momentous meeting took place, becomes the focal point of celebrations, including religious ceremonies, processions, and theatrical performances depicting historical events. Poson is observed with great devotion, illuminating the country with lanterns and bringing communities together in a spiritual ambiance.

Esala Poya Day

Esala Poya Day in July celebrates two significant events in the Buddhist calendar: the first teaching of Lord Buddha after his enlightenment and the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka. The Esala Perahera in Kandy is the most spectacular event associated with this day, featuring a grand procession with elephants, dancers, drummers, and fire performers, honoring the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha housed in the Temple of the Tooth. It's a time for spiritual renewal and observance of Buddhist precepts, drawing thousands of devotees and tourists to witness the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.

Nikini Poya Day

Nikini Poya Day, observed in August, marks the conclusion of the three-month "Vas" period, during which monks retreat for intensive meditation and study. This period of retreat during the rainy season dates back to the time of Buddha and is observed to this day. It ends with the Nikini full moon, symbolizing a time for spiritual cleansing and renewal for both the monastic community and lay Buddhists. Temples hold special ceremonies and religious activities, encouraging devotees to engage in deeper reflection on the teachings of Buddha and to recommit to leading a life guided by those principles.

Binara Poya Day

Binara Poya Day, celebrated in September, commemorates the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sasana (the Buddhist nun’s order) by Lord Buddha, acknowledging the equal role of women in the spread of Buddhism. This day is observed with special religious activities across Sri Lanka, highlighting the importance of women in Buddhism and the spiritual community. Devotees visit temples to offer prayers, observe sil, and participate in meditation sessions, reflecting on the teachings of Buddha and the significance of the nun's order in the propagation of Buddhism. Binara Poya is a day of reverence and reflection, promoting gender equality and the contribution of women to religious life.

Vap Poya Day

Vap Poya Day in October marks the end of the Vassa retreat, the rainy season where monks conclude their period of intensive meditation and study. It also commemorates the Buddha’s return to earth after delivering a sermon to his mother in the heavenly realm. This day is celebrated with the Katina ceremony, where laypeople offer new robes and other necessities to the monks, symbolizing the strong bond between the monastic community and lay Buddhists. Vap Poya is a time of giving, sharing, and renewing commitment to the Buddhist path, fostering a sense of community and spiritual growth.


Deepavali, also known as Diwali, is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, usually in October or November. This festival symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Homes and public spaces are decorated with oil lamps, and fireworks light up the sky, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. Families gather to share sweets, exchange gifts, and offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, seeking blessings for the year ahead. Deepavali is a time of joy, festivity, and reflection on the inner light that guides one's path.

Ill Poya Day

Ill Poya Day in November is significant for marking the Buddha’s ordination of sixty disciples as the first missionaries to spread his teachings. This event laid the foundations for the spread of Buddhism across the world. In Sri Lanka, Ill Poya is observed with various religious activities, including the ordination of new monks, Dhamma talks, and meditation programs. It’s a day for Buddhists to reflect on the growth of Buddhism, the importance of missionary work in spreading the Dhamma, and to recommit themselves to practicing the teachings of Buddha in their daily lives.

Unduvap Poya Day

Unduvap Poya Day, celebrated in December, is of great historical and religious significance as it marks the arrival of the Bo-tree sapling in Sri Lanka from India, under the patronage of King Devanampiyatissa and brought by Sanghamitta Theri, establishing a tangible symbol of Buddhism in the island. The sacred Bo-tree in Anuradhapura, grown from this sapling, is venerated by Buddhists as a living representation of Buddha’s enlightenment. Devotees gather for religious ceremonies, paying homage to the tree and celebrating the unbroken lineage of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Unduvap Poya is a testament to the deep roots of Buddhism in Sri Lankan culture and its enduring legacy.

Islamic Holidays

In Sri Lanka, Islamic holidays like Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Milad-Un-Nabi bring together the Muslim community in celebrations marked by prayers, sharing, and reflection. Eid al-Fitr sees families breaking their Ramadan fast together, sharing meals and giving to the needy, while Eid al-Adha emphasizes devotion and community through the act of sacrifice and sharing. Milad-Un-Nabi is a time for Muslims to gather and reflect on the Prophet Muhammad's teachings, promoting peace and compassion. These festivals underscore the spirit of generosity, community, and the rich tapestry of religious practices in Sri Lanka.

Christian Holidays

Christian holidays in Sri Lanka, such as Good Friday and Christmas Day, are observed with deep reverence and joy. Good Friday is a contemplative day marking Jesus Christ's crucifixion, observed with church services and reflection on themes of sacrifice and redemption. Christmas Day is a festive occasion, celebrating the birth of Jesus with midnight masses, decorations, and family gatherings. Both days reflect the spirit of Christian faith, embodying love, peace, and goodwill, contributing to the island's diverse and harmonious religious landscape.

For travelers looking to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Sri Lankan culture, these festivals offer a unique opportunity to experience the island's heritage first-hand. Many of the celebrations, especially the grand Esala Perahera in Kandy, attract tourists from around the globe, providing a significant boost to local tourism. Visitors are often welcomed to participate in the festivities, from joining in the Vesak lantern decorations to enjoying the communal feasts of Eid. Engaging with these traditions allows tourists to not only witness the beauty of Sri Lankan customs but also to connect deeply with the local community, making their travel experience truly unforgettable.

In essence, Sri Lanka's calendar is replete with a diverse array of holidays and festivals that illuminate the island's rich cultural and religious heritage. From the vibrant celebrations of Poya Days and the national pride of Independence Day, to the shared joys of Eid, Christmas, and Deepavali, each festival weaves a tapestry of community, faith, and tradition. These celebrations not only offer a window into the soul of Sri Lanka but also bring together people from all walks of life, fostering unity and understanding. Through the observance of these festivals, Sri Lankans honor their ancestors, cherish their traditions, and embrace the universal values of compassion, peace, and goodwill towards all.

Upcoming Holidays (next six months)

Vesak Poya Day May 23 Thursday Public Holiday
Vesak Poya Day Holiday May 24 Friday Public Holiday
Eid al-Adha June 17 Monday National Holiday
Poson Poya Day June 21 Friday Public Holiday
Esala Poya Day July 20 Saturday Public Holiday
Nikini Poya Day August 19 Monday Public Holiday
Milad-Un-Nabi (Mawlid) September 16 Monday Public Holiday
Binara Poya Day September 17 Tuesday Public Holiday
Vap Poya Day October 17 Thursday Public Holiday
Deepavali October 31 Thursday Public Holiday
Ill Poya Day November 15 Friday Public Holiday

Holidays by Year

Previous Year: 2023
This page was last edited on 20 February 2024 at 09:52 AM (EST).