Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Brunei, being a mostly Muslim country, celebrates many Muslim holidays as public (non-working) holidays. Since Brunei is actually very diverse, you’ll find local celebrations representing many different groups around the country as well throughout the year.

New Year’s Day.  January 1.  New Year’s Eve is celebrated like in most places in the world, minus the drinking part, of course (since alcohol is banned). People stay up late and go out to clubs and restaurants (which may stay open later than usual) to bring in the New Year. Just this past New Year’s Eve (a few weeks ago), the prince of Brunei – who is a fan of celebrities apparently – paid Lindsay Lohan $100,000 to attend his New Year’s Eve party. That girl owes so much money in back taxes, she didn’t have any choice but to attend. I hope she was sober enough to enjoy it and realize what a cool thing that was. I’m also hoping he’s a fan of her early days.

Chinese New Year.  Varies.  Because of Brunei’s large Chinese population, it’s no surprise that Chinese New Year is also celebrated here as well. China and Brunei have had a long relationship for many centuries. This year in 2013 is the Year of the Snake, and will be celebrated on February 10. Celebrations usually last for about a week. There is usually a parade, paper lanterns are lit, and a fireworks display at night. Cultural displays, like music and dance, are also performed. People gather with friends and family, sharing in traditional meals and participating in the festivities.

Maulud (Birth of the Prophet).  February 4.  In Brunei, mass gatherings in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday are spread across all four districts of the country.  Women will often gather in their own places to have their own celebrations.  Many people who are able will participate in a procession through the streets and will sit in on special prayers and speeches at the mosque in honor of the day. They will not only give homage to the Prophet, but there will also be a theme, such as engaging the youth in the community to become more well-balanced individuals in their spiritual and religious studies.

National Day. February 23.  This day marks the independence from Britain in 1984.  There are famous ceremonies that take place, which people plan for months in advance. It’s a combination of music and dance and other cultural arts. You’ll find the country decorated in yellow, black, and red (the colors of the flag) and many people will attend special prayer services at their local mosques. The actual proclamation was announced on January 1 at the stroke of midnight, but they celebrate their  Independence Day on February 23.

Anniversary of Royal Brunei Malay Regiment.  May 31.  This day commemorates the establishment of Brunei’s armed forces. In Brunei, the sultan is both head of state as well as the head of the army.  Originally, the army started out with only 60 members, but Brunei has since expanded not only the army, but also created a navy and an air force. Each branch is voluntary, but only citizens of Malay ethnicity can join. On this day, there are several large military parades held by all branches that the sultan will also participate in.

Israk Mikraj (Ascension of the Prophet).  June 17.  This holiday commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey from Masjidil Haram to Masjidil Aqsa and his subsequent ascension to the heavens.  Each year, there is a large celebration, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs will set a theme. For example, last year the theme was “Praying repels wrongdoing.”  There are also performances held throughout the ceremony by various groups, especially youth groups.

Sultan’s Birthday.  July 15.  The sultan of Brunei is considered one of the world’s wealthiest men. For him, it’s nothing beyond a reasonable expectation to go out all for his birthday. The day starts off with a nationwide prayer, followed by a royal address to the nation. The streets are decorated in the country’s colors and pictures of the sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, adorn every corner. Everyone in the country celebrates the sultan’s birthday, and dignitaries and celebrities from around the world come to celebrate the sultan’s birthday – extending the celebrations for a month.

Start of Ramadan.  July 20. Ramadan is the Muslim holiday that is centered around a month-long fast during the day. For non-Muslims, you would probably have your pick of restaurant availability during the day. After sunset, Muslims are finally allowed to break their fast with a meal, called iftar. There are variances as to what people eat at iftar, but for most people it’s a variety of fruits and grains, soups, chicken, nuts, and some kind of dessert. And then again, some people eat Western foods like hamburgers and pizza. After starving all day, it’s whatever you feel like, I suppose.

Anniversary of the Revelation of the Quran.  Varies. This marks the anniversary of when the Prophet Muhammad presented the Quran. The day is usually spent in quiet reflection and reading passages from the Quran.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri (End of Ramadan). August 19.  This is one of Brunei’s largest holidays of the year.  Shops, bazaars, and street vendors will sell their goods, often sweetening the deal to prepare for the holiday.  People will often buy shoes and sandals, clothing, and special food.  Banks, government offices, and schools will close for the festivities so that families and friends can celebrate together.  Many people will also travel to their hometowns during this time as well.  On the actual day, people will attend prayer services at the mosque, and there are special foods that are prepared (although it varies by region).

Ketupats (rice inside of woven palm leaves and then boiled) are popular at Aidilfitri. 
Hari Raya Aidiladha (Feast of the Sacrifice).  October 26.  The holiday ultimately is tied to Abraham sacrificing his only son because God had asked him to (but was spared at the last minute).  I found a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office on Aidil Adha that summed it up as this: “Aidil Adha is a symbol of sacrifice and extraordinary courage.  This special day of the Muslim calendar is also seen as a driving force for Muslims to be steadfast (istiqamah).” He also said, “Matters that are good must be expedited, and this is the meaning of change. Though it may be hard and challenging, it must be done. … There are many challenges and work that we have to face, let us accept these challenges.  We must be ahead of time, let us work to move forward.”  These are profound words to follow, even for non-Muslims.  Improving yourself and your community transcend any one person’s religion.

Hijrah (Islamic New Year). Around November. This day is in remembrance of the Prophet Muhammad’s trek from Mecca to Medina to avoid a plot to kill him. Since this was an important event, it marks the beginning of the Muslim New Year.  This day isn’t for large festivities, but rather a time for reflection. It’s more about getting rid of the bad habits of the past year and creating good ones for the new year (like how we make New Year’s resolutions).

Christmas Day. December 25. Even though Brunei is mostly a Muslim country, it is also known for its cultural and religious diversity. Christmas is celebrated in the usual exuberance as other countries that celebrate Christmas, although it’s not celebrated for as many days as in other countries. Most of the Christians reside in the capital city and in the Belait region, and they usually spend the holiday having large parties with friends and family.

Up next: Art and Literature

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