Penang's multicultural community affords the state plenty of celebrations and festivals throughout the year. Here’s your guide to the state’s top events and things to do this year.
Chap Goh Mei (Feb 11)
Also known as Chinese’s Valentine’s Day, Chap Goh Mei is celebrated by the Chinese community on the 15th (and last) day of the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, young ladies will throw oranges into the sea to wish for a suitor. In Penang, Chap Goh Mei is celebrated at the Esplanade with street food, performances, fireworks and more.
Penang Yosakoi (Mar 11)
Yosakoi, which means ‘come at night’ in the Tosa dialect, is celebrated as a street party in Penang. Back for its fourth installation this year, the Yosakoi parade will see cultural dances, cosplayers, Japanese martial art demonstrations, singing competitions, fun games and more. penangyosakoiparade.com
Thai Songkran Festival (Apr 13)
Penang’s Thai community observes this water festival by roaming the streets and splashing water at others, a customary practice which is believed to wash away negativity and bad luck. Songkran will be held in several venues including Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple and Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple (Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus).
Wesak Day (May 21)
Wesak Day is widely celebrated by the local Buddhist community and honours Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and departure from the human world. The festival begins at dawn, when religious devotees pay a visit to major Buddhist temples to meditate as well as participate in candlelight processions and give food to the needy.
Eid celebrations (Jun 26-27)
The Eid – or Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa – is celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of Ramadhan. One truly Malaysian tradition is the hosting (and visiting) of open houses – friends and families are invited for a meal and are treated with traditional Malay delicacies like rendang, ketupat, lemang and more.
Durian season (Jun-Jul)
The contentious ‘King of Fruits’ is celebrated during the annual durian season in Penang. There will be various stand-alone stalls and trucks set up selling the fruit all around the state. Keep an eye out for the many durian-themed hotel packages throughout this time.
George Town World Heritage Day (7 July 2017)
July 7 is a public holiday honouring George Town’s inclusion in the Unesco World Heritage List of Cities and Sites for its ‘outstanding universal value’. You can expect lively celebrations complete with good food, cultural events, traditional arts and crafts and more.
George Town Festival 2017 (July 28-Sep 3)
Penang’s month-long state-wide festival is dedicated to the arts, heritage and culture. There will be theatre and music productions, dance and opera presentations, art performances and exhibitions and so much more by both local and international players.
Across George Town (04 261 6308/www.georgetownfestival.com)
Butterworth Fringe Festival (Aug 12-13)
Part of the George Town Festival, the Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF) extends the celebration of arts on the island to the mainland. BFF will also see its share of local and international acts, along with food, live performances, exhibitions, craft workshops and more. Jalan Jeti Lama (04 261 6308/fb.com/ButterworthFringeFestival)
Penang Hungry Ghost Festival (Aug 22-Sep 19)
During the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Chinese believe that spirits and ghosts are let out of hell and roam freely among the living. Offerings and prayers are made to conciliate the spirits, while staged opera performances and puppet shows are conducted to entertain them.
Deepavali (Oct 19)
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali is celebrated by the local Hindu community who light oil lamps and decorate their homes as a way of thanking the gods for happiness, peace, wealth and knowledge. Aside from enjoying the scrumptious array of traditional Indian food which are available statewide, you can also catch cultural performances and activities during the celebrations.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Oct 20-28)
This Taoist celebration takes place over nine days and welcomes the nine Emperor Gods to Earth. Devotees practise a vegetarian diet to cleanse themselves, and vegetarian stalls are set up all over town. There are staged opera shows and ceremonies with religious rituals; on the last day, the festival culminates with a loud and lively procession as a send-off for the gods.
Come November, Penang gets ready for the lengthy local school holidays with even more artsy, cultural and sporty events.
George Town Literary Festival (Nov 24-26)
This festival gives critics, poets, thinkers and writers a platform to directly converse with their peers and fans as well as encourage a larger literary scene in the country.
ASICS Penang Bridge International Marathon (Nov 26)
This international sports event and world’s longest bridge marathon comprises a full marathon, half marathon, 10k marathon as well as fun run. Registration opens February 16.
In-Between Arts Festival (Nov 27-29)
A community event offering an alternative view on the arts, festivities usually include art and photography exhibitions, film screenings, live performances, traditional shows, pop-up markets and more.
Penang Island Jazz Festival (Nov 30-Dec 3)
This annual four-day event brings together local as well as international jazz acts onto one stage. There will be live performances, fringe stages, talks, exhibitions, workshop and of course jazz jam sessions.
Chingay Parade (TBC)
Chingay is an annual street parade held as a part of the Chinese New Year celebrations to celebrate the Chinese deities’ birthdays. The lively street parade includes traditional performances by Chingay troupes where they’ll balance a huge flagpole on their foreheads and chins. There will also be lion dance presentations and colourful floats making their way down the streets of Penang.