Festivals and Holidays


Festivals give people the opportunity to come together and celebrate something that they have in common. Festivals can be local, regional, national or even international. Indonesia celebrates a variety of festivals.

Local festivals are usually celebrated within a small community, like a village, when something important happens. This can be a wedding, a funeral or the birth of a new child. Often these festivals have particular ceremonies related to them.

Regional festivals are for an entire area and usually celebrate a person who was important in the history of the region. In Indonesia, there are several regional festivals throughout the country that commemorate kings who ruled over the regions.

National festivals are often days of historical importance for the whole country. The biggest national festival in Indonesia is Independence Day which is celebrated on 17 August every year. On this day there is a parade before the president in Jakarta and people all over Indonesia celebrate their freedom and independence as a nation.

Some festivals are international, not because they are organised by many countries, but because they are based on religious beliefs and are celebrated around the world. There are many religious festivals in Indonesia.

Regional festivals
There are many regional festivals in Indonesia and most of them are celebrated in memory of kings and sultans who ruled long ago. There are also some other very interesting festivals celebrated around the country.

One festival takes place on the island of Madura, where, each year between September and November, they hold a series of bull races.

Bulls are tied together in teams of two and then drivers stand or sit on a yoke that is tied between the bulls. Racers run through an elimination process until there is only one winner left. There is a lot of pride and prestige attached to owning race-winning bulls. Bulls are taken very good care of, given special foods and are worth a lot of money.

National festivals
There are public holidays in Indonesia for many special events but the most important national festival is Independence Day. It celebrates the declaration of independence that Sukarno made on 17 August 1945.

Every year there is a special parade held in Jakarta that features elements of the Indonesian military and also includes schoolchildren. Local communities organise special games and events like picnics to help celebrate the day. Buildings are decorated and there are special concerts which are also broadcast on television and radio.

Religious festivals
While there are many festivals in Indonesian life, most of the important festivals are religious ones. These are not necessarily celebrated by all Indonesians but they still have a big part to play in Indonesian life. There are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian festivals celebrated in Indonesia.

The following is a list of some of the biggest religious festivals in Indonesia.

  • Waisak Day – this is a Buddhist festival held in May that celebrates Buddha’s birth, death and gaining of wisdom. Celebrations are held at Borobudur Temple near Yogyakarta on the island of Java.
  • Galungan – this is an important festival on Bali. The day it is celebrated changes depending on the Hindu calendar. This festival honours ancestors and people travel home to their families to make offerings and pay respects.
  • Nyepi – this day is the Balinese New Year. It is also based on the Hindu calendar and is very different from New Year celebrations in Australia. Before Nyepi, the Balinese people take statues of the gods out and clean them. They hold special ceremonies to cast out bad spirits and then on the day of Nyepi they do nothing. The word Nyepi literally means silence and everything in Bali closes, the people stay home and the whole island is quiet.
  • Ramadan – this is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and during this month Muslims do not eat or drink while there is sunlight. This is a time to focus on prayer and faith. In the evening families have small meals and visit friends. It is the holiest time of year for Muslims.
  • Id al-Fitr – this is the feast that immediately follows Ramadan. Muslims enjoy food together and ask each other for forgiveness for any wrongs that they have done during the year. This festival lasts for three days and many people travel to be home with their families for it.
  • Easter – this is the same festival that is celebrated by Christian people around the world. It remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Christmas – this is also the same festival celebrated by Christians everywhere. This is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Ceremonies are special events that are performed in a customary way. Common ceremonies are things like weddings or funerals. There are many important ceremonies in Indonesian culture and, like festivals, they tend to be based on the religious beliefs of the people taking part in them.

Muslim people wash themselves as part of a ceremony before they pray. In Bali, Hindu people take part in many ceremonial dances and place offerings at temples.

Ceremonies can also be a part of festivals. At times of celebration there may be some rituals which need to be completed before the festival can begin. In Bali, before Nyepi begins, the people must complete the ceremonial task of cleaning their stautues of the gods and banishing bad spirits.