Public Holidays in Sri Lanka in 2017 & 2018

sri lanka poya day

Special days and National Holidays in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has special celebrations and holidays and many of these are based when the moon is full, you will notice that a day of celebration ensues.

Poya Day is not a single day but a name for any holiday in Sri Lanka that is held to mark a full moon.

Some of these “Poya Days” are extra special (big poya day) and are celebrated with other religions besides Buddhism. This is a great opportunity to explore as far as Buddhist history and culture and that there are often events to attend on Poya Days.

The Buddhist lunar calendar and moon-phase system is used in Sri Lanka. The vast majority of Sri Lankans (70 percent) are Buddhist and most of the population celebrates the monthly Poya Day and treats the day as of religious significance.

On poya day the moon is largest and brightest when it is full is the rationale behind full moons being occasions for celebration. In Sinhalese, “poya” is derived from a word meaning “fast day,” which explains why many Buddhists go to temple and fast during Poya day. Poya day is a public holiday and government offices are closed.

On Poya Days, Sri Lankan workers are legally guaranteed a paid off-work day, unless they are paid time and a half by their employer during Poya Day hours.

Most businesses and commercial offices  will be closed, and alcoholic beverages and meat are not allowed to be sold until the Poya is over. Tourists in international hotels will generally be unaffected.

Each full moon, and each corresponding Poya Day, has its own name and specific events it is meant to commemorate. These will be events related to Buddha and Buddhism.

Key events remembered on Poya Days include:

  • Buddha’s birthday – Vesak Full Moon Poya Day
  • Buddha’s enlightenment
  • Buddha’s sending out of 60 disciples as missionaries
  • Personal visits Buddha made to Sri Lanka
  • Arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka – Poson Full Moon Poya Day
  • First Buddhist Council held after Buddha’s death
  • Buddha’s first sermon and the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka – Esala Full Moon Poya Day

Four ideas for things to do in Sri Lanka on any of the various Poya Days are:

  • The May Poya Day, which is the single-most important of all the Poya Days, you will see the streets crowded with people and colourful lights and decorations on every hand. In memory of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha, you will see alms houses lining the roads and food stalls with authentic Sri Lankan dishes and desserts there as well.
  • For the August Poya Day, visit Kandy in the centre of the island. there, the “Esala Festival”. You can see fire-walking, extreme acts of “penance,” gigantic cultural parades, dancers and musicians, and some truly amazing domesticated elephants.
  • On any Poya Day, visit the Temple of the Tooth, which contains a tooth of the Buddha himself. The possessor of the tooth of Buddha was once thought to give authority to govern the kingdom that Kandy and the royal palace of Kandy is right next to the temple.
  • Visit the Sri Mahabodhi Temple in Anuradhapura, where you can see a bodhi tree thought to be directly derived from the bodhi tree in India under which Buddha was first enlightened. “Bodhi” is a word meaning “enlightenment,” but the tree itself is a kind of a fig tree. Every Buddhist temple has a bodhi tree planted by it, but only a few claim to have a tree from a sapling of the “original” bodhi tree. Bodhi trees have heart-shaped leaves and are represented in much Buddhist artwork as well.

Special days and National Holidays in Sri Lanka in 2017

Date Weekday Holiday Name Holiday Type
Jan 12 Thursday Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Jan 14 Saturday Tamil Thai Pongal Day Public Holiday
Feb 4 Saturday National Day Public Holiday
Feb 10 Friday Navam Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Feb 14 Tuesday Valentine’s Day Observance
Feb 24 Friday Mahasivarathri Day Public Holiday
Mar 12 Sunday Madin Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Mar 13 Monday Holi Hindu Holiday
Mar 20 Monday March equinox Season
Apr 10 Monday Bak Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Apr 12 Wednesday Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s Eve Public Holiday
Apr 13 Thursday Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s Day Public Holiday
Apr 14 Friday Good Friday Public Holiday
Apr 16 Sunday Easter Sunday Observance
May 1 Monday Labour Day Public Holiday
May 10 Wednesday Vesak Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
May 11 Thursday Day after Vesak Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
May 14 Sunday Mother’s Day Observance
Jun 9 Friday Poson Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Jun 18 Sunday Father’s Day Observance
Jun 21 Wednesday June Solstice Season
Jun 26 Monday Eid-al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) Public Holiday
Jul 8 Saturday Adhi Esala Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Aug 7 Monday Raksha Bandhan Hindu Holiday
Aug 7 Monday Nikini Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Aug 14 Monday Janmashtami Hindu Holiday
Aug 25 Friday Ganesh Chaturthi Hindu Holiday
Sep 2 Saturday Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) Public Holiday
Sep 5 Tuesday Binara Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Sep 21 Thursday Navaratri Hindu Holiday
Sep 22 Friday September equinox Season
Sep 30 Saturday Dussehra Hindu Holiday
Oct 5 Thursday Vap Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Oct 18 Wednesday Deepavali Public Holiday
Nov 3 Friday Il Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Dec 1 Friday Milad-Un-Nabi (Holy Prophet’s Birthday) Public Holiday
Dec 3 Sunday Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day Public Holiday
Dec 21 Thursday December Solstice Season
Dec 24 Sunday Christmas Eve Observance
Dec 25 Monday Christmas Day Public Holiday

2018 Public Holidays in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – Poya Days

1 Jan Mon Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day
31 Jan Wed Adhi Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day
1 Mar Thu Madin Full Moon Poya Day
31 Mar Sat Adhi Madin Full Moon Poya Day
29 May Tue Vesak Full Moon Poya Day
30 May Wed Day following Vesak Full Moon Poya Day
27 Jun Wed Poson Full Moon Poya Day
27 Jul Fri Esala Full Moon Poya Day
26 Aug Sun Nikini Full Moon Poya Day
24 Sep Mon Binara Full Moon Poya Day
24 Oct Wed Vap Full Moon Poya Day
22 Nov Thu Ill Full Moon Poya Day
22 Dec Sat Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day