FESTIVALS AND EVENTS IN BRUNEI
Most of Brunei’s events and festivals are religiously oriented, but there are also holidays that commemorate important historical events. The First Day of Hijrah, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, and Chinese New Year don’t have fixed dates. Other celebrations like the National Day and the Sultan’s Birthday have fixed dates. Each year, Brunei goes through a cycle of events that either highlight the nation’s achievements or a tradition. These are often considered to be some of the best times to visit the country.
January 1st — “New Year's Day” is celebrated with fireworks displays and parties with families and friends. The New Year’s Eve (December 31) features tennis, golf, squash, scuba diving, bowling, kayaking, and windsurfing events.
January or February — “Chinese New Year” is celebrated by the Chinese community beginning around the time of the first day of the first full moon on the Chinese lunar calendar. This festival lasts for about two weeks is celebrated with family reunion dinners, paying respects to elders, visiting relatives and friends, presenting ang-pows” (red packets with money) to children and unmarried adults and lion dances in which dancers and acrobats demonstrate skills to the clashing of the cymbals and the beatings of gongs and drums. The celebration begins with a reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year to encourage closer rapport between family members. For two weeks after that families visit one another bringing with them oranges to symbolize longevity and good fortune. Traditional cookies and food are aplenty during this festivity.
January or February — “Mohammed's Birthday” usually falls in January or February. It is celebrated nationwide with religious rallies held throughout the country. Muslims gather to recite hymns and holy verses from the Koran at mosques and Muslim scholars give talks. In Brunei Darussalam, this occasion is known as the Mauludin Nabi S.A.W. Muslims throughout the country honour this event. Readings from the Koran and an address on Islam from officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs marks the beginning of this auspicious occasion. His Majesty the Sultan also gives a royal address and with other members of the Royal family, leads a procession on foot through the main streets of Bandar Seri Begawan. Religious functions, lectures and other activities are also held to celebrate this important occasion nationwide.
February 23rd — “National Day” marks Brunei’s independence from Britain. Though freedom was actually achieved on January 1, 1984, the official celebration is held every February 23 to follow tradition. Bruneians usually prepare themselves two months beforehand. Schoolchildren, private sector representatives and civil servants work hand-in-hand rehearsing their part in flash card displays and other colourful crowd formations. In addition mass prayers and reading of Surah Yaasin are held at mosques throughout the country. The holiday considered one of the best times to visit Brunei, as the city truly comes alive for the annual National Day celebrations!
Every year, thousands of people would gather in the nation’s capital to pay tribute to this day with coordinated marches and mass performances from all sections of society. If you love fireworks, the celebration often culminates in a grand burst of colours at night as lustrous fireworks take to the skies, delivering a fitting end to a momentous day. The celebration is often followed by two weeks of outdoor food bazaars that line the streets and parking lots of the capital. There are performances of traditional dances and local music.
May 31st — “ Harvest Festival” is a holiday that is celebrated by various ethnic groups in Brunei such as the Dusun and Murut communities. In Dusun tradition, it’s referred to as Adau Gayoh and it’s celebrated on May 1st every year, where the padi farmer with the most plentiful harvest will host the event – showcasing traditional games such as the Uwod Yompok (spinning top), and symbolic dances such as the Ancayau – along with traditional food and drinks prepared from the rice harvest. In Ibanese culture, the Harvest Festival is referred to as Gawai and is celebrated on June 1st every year. It is during this special time that Ibanese families prepare and serve portions of homemade rice wine to their neighbours and guests, in commemoration of the cultural festival. It is even considered an auspicious sign, if the rice wine prepared by each family could be finished right before the end of Gawai. Recipes for a long, merry night, indeed.
May 31st — “Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day” marks the commemoration of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces formation day. The occasion is celebrated with military parades, artillery displays, parachuting and exhibitions.
June or July — “First Day of Hijrah”, the Muslim New Year, celebrates the migration of the prophet Muhammad and his followers to Medina from Mecca. This festival also marks the Islamic New Year, so it doesn’t have a fixed date but typically falls in June or July.
July or August — “Maluad”, Tenth Day of Muslim New Year.
July 15th — “Sultan's Birthday” is one of the most important events in the national calendar with activities and festivities taking place nationwide. Celebrated on 15th July, this event begins with mass prayer throughout the country. On this occasion, His Majesty the Sultan delivers a 'titah' or royal address followed by investiture ceremony held at the Istana Nurul Iman. The event is also marked with gatherings at the four districts where His Majesty meets and gets together with his subjects.
September 23rd — “Teacher’s Day” celebrates and recognizes the good deeds of the teachers to the community, religion and the country. It is celebrated in commemoration of the birthday of the late Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien, the 28th Sultan of Brunei for his contribution in the field of education including religious education. On this occassion, three awards are given away namely, Meritorious Teacher's Award, Outstanding Teacher's Award and "Guru Tua" Award.
September 29th — “Public Service Day” is observed with the objective to uphold the aspiration of the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam towards creating an efficient, clean, sincere and honest public service. The Public Service Day commemorates the promulgation of the first written Constitution in Brunei Darussalam. The Public Service Day is celebrated with the presentation of the meritorious service award to Ministries and Government Departments.
September or October — “Me'raj” commemorates the ascension of the Prophet Mohammed to paradise.
December 25th — “ Christmas “day is a joyous and colourful celebration enjoyed by Christians throughout the country. Even many Muslims celebrate the day like the rest of the world with family gatherings and gifts.
Movable — “Ramadan “ is a holy month for all Muslims all over the world. It is period of fasting - abstinence from food, drink and other material comforts from dawn to dusk. During this month, religious activities are held at mosques and suraus throughout the country.
Movable — “First Day of the Fasting Month of Ramadan”.
Movable — “Anniversary of the Revelation of the Koran”.
Movable — “Panjut Festival” in Kuala Kangsgar heralds the end of the 27th night of the Muslim month of Ramadan (fasting month). Malays celebrate this auspicious night by lighting up their houses with lanterns and candles.
Moveable — “ Hari Raya AidilFitri” (Eid al-Fitr) is celebrated nationwide and marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It falls on the first day of Syawal, the 10th month of the Muslim calendar. Muslim usher in the day with thanksgiving prayers at the mosque and remembrance of departed loved ones. It is also a common practice for Muslims to hold open houses for their relatives and friends. Children are given presents and money, and everyone wears new clothes. Muslims go to the mosque in the morning for special Eid prayers, worship and thanksgiving. The rest of the day is all about eating and socializing with friends and family. Special festive dishes are made especially for Hari Raya including satay (beef, chicken or mutton kebabs), ketupat or lontong (rice cakes in coconut or banana leaves), rendang (spicy marinated beef) and other tantalizing cuisines.
Most shops and restaurants are closed so people get to spend uninterrupted quality time with their families and friends. If you’re considering visiting at this time, bring a fancy modest outfit that covers your arms, shoes that cover your toes and a hijab (for ladies). This is one of the few occasions His Majesty’s grand palace, Istana Nurul Iman, is open to the public and you’ll get to meet members of the Royal Family in person! There’s a long line to get in, but if you’re curious what His Majesty’s palace looks like, this is your chance to get in. Once inside, men will be able to meet and greet male members of the Royal Family, including the Sultan, while women will meet female members of the family, including the Queen.
Movable — “Hari Raya Aidiladha” is also known as Hari Raya Korban. Goats, sheep and cows are slaughtered to commemorate the Islamic historical event of Prophet Ibrahim S.A.W. The meat is then distributed among relatives, friends and the less fortunate. Held at the end of the Hajj period, when Muslims go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. In the early part of the first day, prayers are held at every mosque in the country. Families get together to seek forgiveness from the elders and loved ones. You will see Bruneians decked-out in their traditional garb visiting relatives and friends.
Movable — “Maal Hiraj” is celebrated nationwide and commemorates the first day of the Muslim calendar and the haj (the journey of the prophet Mohammed from Medina to Mecca). The day is marked with rallies and processions in all the state capitals.