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|