When you think of Indonesia, you probably think of beautiful beaches, lush vegetation, colourful clothes, delicious food, fascinating dances and inspiring music; after all, it is a multicultural country rich in tradition. There is an eclectic mix of Indonesian festivals and cultural events that attract locals and tourists from all over the world.
Indonesia – the world’s largest island nation with more than 17,500 tropical islands, is also the fourth most populous country in the world with more than 267 million inhabitants. Home to 300 ethnic groups, Indonesia’s culture is complex and diverse, shaped by a multitude of religions and influenced by various foreign cultures throughout its history.
To add to this, Indonesia also recognises six major religions, namely Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, which means that all major festivals related to these religions are also celebrated as public holidays.
These festivals which bring together people of all ages, religions and backgrounds to celebrate the diversity of cultures, will make your visit truly unforgettable. Rest assured, you will be greeted with open arms, traditional music, dancing and lots of delicious food.
Holidays and festivals in Indonesia
When visiting Indonesia, there is a culture of celebration, with a variety of vibrant festivals spread throughout the year. From annual cultural events such as Jakarta’s Chinese New Year Parade, to religious festivals such as Easter in Ambon, there is always something exciting happening in this country.
Visitors can find a plethora of Indonesian festivals and cultural exhibitions, no matter the time of year. Each festival is very different from one another and reflects ancient customs and beliefs unique to a local tribe, celebrated and passed down from generation to generation.
Rambu Solo Ceremony
- Time: Usually between July and September
This festival is also known as Toraja funeral ceremony, the Rambu Solo Ceremony is one of the best festivals in Indonesia by a group of people called Toraja.
Tana Toraja is the land of Toraja, a mountain located in South Sulawesi. Toraja is a group of minor people who believe in many ancient rituals and rites, this place is also known as the land of heavenly kings. These people perform quite fascinating funeral rites to send the spirit of the dead or mark their new journey to the afterlife to avoid any kind of loss for the deceased family.
Nyepi – Day of Silence in Bali
- Time: every Isakawarsa (Saka new year)
- 2024 date: 11 March
Nyepi – a festival in Bali that involves silence, fasting, meditation and minimal work. This festival commemorates the Balinese New Year. Although the date changes every year, it is generally observed in March. Nyepi translates as a day of silence, and involves fasting, meditation and prayers.
It is customary for lights to be turned off (or kept dim), travel to be kept to a minimum and no work to be done on this day. In fact, it is one day a year that Bali’s airport is virtually closed. Some Balinese villages make ogoh-ogoh (demonic statues made of bamboo and cloth) to symbolise negativity, which are paraded around the ceremony before being burned in the local cemetery.
The day after Nyepi, known as Ngembak Geni, social activity resumes and families, friends and neighbours gather to exchange forgiveness, a clean start to the new year ahead.
Travellers looking to experience the country’s traditions will find this unique way of celebrating the New Year an interesting immersion into the local culture. However, they should note that all restrictions also apply to tourists and that Bali’s airport is closed for the day, so no travel should be scheduled on this day.
Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival
- Time: the beginning of March every year
One of the most popular festivals in Indonesia is the International Jazz Festival. Held every year in the city of Jakarta, this festival features some of the best jazz artists in the world. It is by far the largest jazz festival in the southern hemisphere and attracts thousands of people from all over the world.
The festival lasts 3 days and tickets can be purchased in advance. This is a great opportunity to get up close to some of the world’s best jazz artists as well as enjoy delicious local food and drink.
Jakarta brings together the best of both worlds with its modern cityscape and traditional music, making it the perfect place to celebrate this musical event. You can enjoy evenings filled with smooth sounds and stunning visuals, or take part in workshops and educational sessions on jazz music and culture.
Held in a small village on the west coast of West Sumatra, in a province called Pariaman, it is the central event on the West Sumatran tourist calendar. It celebrates the Muslim Asyura on the tenth of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), and each of those ten days involves a series of ritual requirements that must be fulfilled.
Tabuik was first celebrated in 1831. Despite its religious origin, Tabuik is also the main tourist attraction in Pariaman.
Jember Fashion Carnival
- Time: August
- Held in the East Java city of Jember
This festival is known to be the icon of contemporary East Javanese culture. On this day you can see fashion shows, as fascinating as ever, and marking the spectacular modern costumes that define the roots of multiple traditions and cultures throughout Indonesia.
Around 1,000 participants from all over Indonesia, from kindergarten students to the general public gather to recognise this incredible carnival. Drums, flutes and many instruments ignite one of the most enchanting festivals in Indonesia.
Baliem Valley Festival
This Indonesian festival is unique to the people of Papua, a group of islands in the eastern province of Indonesia. It involves the staging of a mock war, as war is believed to be a symbol of prosperity and fertility.
More than 20 Indonesian tribes gather for the two-day festival. In addition to the mock war, traditional dances are performed to traditional Papuan music called piton. Pig races are also quite common during this time. The Baliem Valley festival is held in August.
Pasola – Sumba
- Time: for four weeks in February and March.
On the remote island of Sumba just an hour’s flight from Bali, its people celebrate a centuries-old tradition. Standing the test of time, Pasola (the word for ‘spear’) is an ancient war ritual that commemorates the rice planting season. During this one-of-a-kind event, two groups of 25 men from different West Sumbanese tribes fight each other, throwing wooden spears while riding horses.
Travellers can witness this fascinating event every year during February or March in the Kodi, Lamboya and Wanokaka areas. Travellers will need to be flexible in their travel plans as the exact date is announced a few weeks in advance and is decided by the Rato (tribal leaders) based on the prediction of the full moon, which is when the Nyale (a type of sea worm) emerges on the beach.
During Pasola, selected skilled horsemen dress up in traditional costumes for the ceremony and ride colourfully decorated horses. They throw spears at the opponent with the aim of spilling blood on the ground, which according to ancient Sumbanese beliefs, fertilises the soil ensuring a better harvest. In the modern iteration, this ritual is no longer violent, but still retains its combative feel.
The Sumbanese also believe that this festival creates a condition of balance between material and spiritual needs, which influences the habits of the local people and allows them to live happily both on earth and in heaven.
Waisak (Buddha’s Anniversary)
This is a Buddhist festival in Indonesia, as Buddhism is one of the six officially recognised religions in the country. This is one of the main religious celebrations in Indonesia and the festival is held in honour of the birth of Buddha.
It is also planned according to the phases of the moon, but falls on a full moon in either May or early June. The ceremony is a public holiday in Indonesia, although the main ceremony takes place at Borobudur Temple, which is also the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
If you plan to make the trip to Borobudur, which is located just outside the city of Yogyakarta, be aware that this is an annual pilgrimage for many Buddhist monks and devotees during Waisak, which means it is likely to be very crowded.
This is a Hindu festival celebrated throughout Indonesia. It is the celebration of the full moon, which is said to bring out the best in people. This festival is highlighted by beautiful street parades with floats and performers, as well as a wide range of food stalls selling traditional dishes from all over Indonesia.
The Purnama Kedasa Festival also includes performances by local musicians and dancers, a great opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in Indonesian culture. Many visit the various temples in their local areas to pray and give offerings to the gods.
While this Indonesian Hindu festival takes place on different islands, one in particular seems to do it best is Bali. There, the celebration centres on a grand parade of floats and decorations in Denpasar. The streets come alive with vibrant colours and exciting performances that make this an event you won’t soon forget.
Danau Toba Festival
The Ministry of Tourism considers this festival to be the biggest tourism event in the country. Danau Toba (Lake Toba) is the largest volcanic lake in the world, located in North Sumatra province, and the event aims to turn it into the new Bali. First held in the 1980s, this week-long festival features Batak cultural performances with canoe races and other artistic spectacles.
- Time: started on 5th day through the 12th day of (Javanese Calendar) Mulud month (corresponding to Rabi’ al-awwal in Islamic Calendar).
One of the traditional festivals in the Islamic celebration marking and recognising the birth day of the Prophet Muhammad. It is celebrated in the week of his birthday every year. This festival is the time of some social stratification in the country and teaches about Islam to non-Muslims, who also convert towards the end of the celebration.
The entire week-long celebration is designed and focused on attracting non-Muslims to the celebration by including events such as prayer, music and any spectacular parades. The ultimate goal of the Sekaten ceremony is the convection of non-Muslims to Islam and this festival is held annually in the Javanese month of Maulud.
Dieng Culture Festival
In central Java, the children of the Dieng Plateau have a fascinating genetic make-up. As they reach puberty, their naturally straight hair begins to form dreadlocks. When this happens, they wait until August each year to have their hair shaved off in an elaborate ceremony that is at the heart of the Dieng Culture Festival in Indonesia.
This ritual of cutting the dreadlocks is traditionally known as ruwatan anak gombel. Along with the ceremony, traditional paper lanterns are thrown into the sky and puppet shows are performed. Java comes alive during this time, and tourists have fun enjoying the island’s exciting atmosphere.
Bau Nyale – Lombok (West Nusa Tenggara)
The arrival of Nyale (sea worms) once a year on the seashore marks another important festival in Indonesia, the Bau Nyale festival in Lombok. As the name suggests, Bau Nyale is a festival where thousands of people gather on the southern shores of Lombok to catch these sea worms, following a tradition that is said to have originated in the 16th century.
This tradition has its roots in the local legend of Princess Mandalika, a popular and much-loved princess of Sasak folklore. The legend tells the story of a young royal girl who was so beautiful and elegant that many princes fought violently for her hand in marriage. In her desire to restore peace to the island, she decided to drown herself in the ocean at Seger Beach. When her subjects tried to retrieve her body, they found a large number of sea worms in her place, believing that the beautiful princess had been reincarnated as a nyale.
The Bau Nyale festival is very important to Indonesians as it represents the preservation of an ancient tradition that strengthens unity among the locals. Catching Nyale during this event is considered a blessing, as it brings prosperity and health. Women also believe that eating nyale will make them more beautiful, like the beautiful Mandalika.
This is a Hindu ceremony held in Bali and is meant to mark the time when the spirits of the ancestors return home. The dates of the ceremony change every year, as it is calculated according to the Hindu calendar, which has a length of 210 days instead of 365.
During this time, people in Bali have shows, dance contests and also put up offerings to appease the spirits. It is also quite noisy, as throwing firecrackers is common, as a way of warding off evil spirits that may be lurking nearby.
Indonesian Muslims celebrate the Muslim New Year Festival, or Idul Fitri, to mark the end of Ramadan. This festival is a time of celebration and gratitude, as well as an opportunity for Muslims to come together and engage in activities such as prayer, reflection and charity.
Idul Fitri is celebrated over three days with family gatherings, parties, decorations and colourful parades. During the festival, many people go to mosques to pray, while others gather in parks or on beaches to celebrate.
On the morning of the festival, families dress up in their best traditional clothes and pray together. During the day, there is plenty of food for family and friends to enjoy. Later in the evening, fireworks displays are held throughout Indonesia to mark the end of Ramadan.
The Idul Fitri Festival is an incredible event celebrating one of the most important holidays in the Islamic calendar. It is a time of reflection and gratitude, but also a wonderful opportunity to bring people together in unity and appreciate the richness of Indonesian culture.
Vesak – Observing the life of the Buddha
Vesak is counted as one of the most important festivals in Indonesia. It marks and acknowledges the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha. The whole of Indonesia is beautifully decorated. This is celebrated in the time of May and June. It is a great day for all Buddhist monks and pilgrims.
Vesak – an important Buddhist festival not only in Indonesia but in all countries with Buddhist communities, commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha. It is called Buddha Purnima in India.
It is held on a full moon day in early May, although it has occasionally been celebrated in June. In Indonesia, monks, pilgrims and devotees travel from the temple of Mendut to Borobudur in central Java, carrying sacred fire from the village of Grobogan and holy water from the springs of Jumprit. Arriving at the Borobudur temple, they circle it clockwise three times before receiving the blessings of the temple gurus. They then throw paper lanterns into the sky to symbolise the illumination of the universe.
National Day is also known as Indonesian Independence Day and is the day Indonesia formally declared its independence from the Dutch colonialists in 1945. As you would expect, this celebration is held throughout the archipelago and takes place on 17 August each year.
Each part of Indonesia has its own way of celebrating the bank holidays, although there are usually parties and competitions in which competitors complete feats such as climbing grease-covered poles to win a prize. There are also military parades in many parts of the country and every town and village is decorated with Indonesian flags and ribbons. On the night of 17 August many cities and towns have a fireworks display.
Summer of Samosir
The Samosir Summer Festival is a unique and exciting festival where visitors from all over the world come together to explore the culture, history and religions of Indonesia. This festival takes place on Samosir Island in North Sumatra, one of the most beautiful places in the country, where you get the full summer experience.
Like many festivals in Indonesia, this week-long celebration includes traditional ceremonies and activities, as well as dance performances, music concerts and cultural workshops. It also includes a few different activities to liven things up, such as boxing matches.
Throughout the festival, you can explore the island’s rich history, visiting ancient temples and sacred sites, learning about local customs and trying new foods. This is a great opportunity to meet the people of Samosir Island, enjoy the beautiful scenery and experience the vibrant culture of Indonesia.
It is a Hindu festival in Indonesia that is closely related to Diwali in India. Although the dates differ between the two festivals, both are celebrated to express gratitude to God, ward off evil spirits and invite ancestral spirits to return to earth to the family home.
Galungan commemorates the victory of good over evil. Throughout Indonesia, streets are adorned with bamboo poles called penjor with offerings (typically rice, bananas and coconuts) hanging from them. In the days leading up to Galungan, pigs or chickens are slaughtered for a feast and family members are visited. The end of Gulangan is called Kuningan, significantly celebrated at the Sakenan Temple followed by rituals and dance performances.
Rice Harvest Festival
- Time: From May 1 to June 30
The Harvest Festival in Bali is one of the most colourful and vibrant events in Indonesia. This festival is celebrated to honour the spirit of gratitude for good harvests, community unity and respect for nature.
Throughout this celebration, you will find many traditional activities such as ceremonial prayers, dance festivals, food offerings to the gods, traditional music and theatre performances.
The Harvest Festival also includes a variety of fascinating rituals such as the Sanghyang Dedari (a trance ritual), the Ngaben (a cremation ceremony) and the Ogoh-ogoh (giant papier-mâché monsters). It’s one of the craziest spectacles to see these huge monsters being thrown and paraded through the streets! You’ll love it!
During this event, locals also create coconut leaf skewers in the shape of animals to sell as souvenirs. You can find people selling snacks on the corner or you can try delicious traditional dishes such as Nasi Campur (mixed rice), Satay Lilit (satay fish on a stick) and Kue Jempol (finger-shaped cakes).
The highlight of this amazing event is when participants gather around a sacred tree, called the ‘Tree of Life’, to celebrate the harvest. Besides being an important religious ceremony, this festival is also an excellent opportunity for tourists to observe Balinese village life and enjoy the beautiful culture and traditions of this unique island.
The Harvest Festival is one of the most unforgettable festivals in Indonesia and will give you a beautiful insight into the culture and customs of this country.
Difference between cultural festivals and traditional celebrations
One of the main differences between cultural festivals and traditional celebrations is their purpose and meaning. Cultural festivals often celebrate religious or historical events and are held to commemorate these events. For example, the Nyepi festival is a Hindu festival that marks the beginning of the new year and is celebrated on the island of Bali. This festival includes a day of fasting, meditation and reflection and is considered one of the most important events in the Hindu calendar.
In contrast, typical celebrations are more informal and are held to mark everyday events and milestones. For example, traditional weddings and birthdays are celebrated with parties, music and dancing. These festivals are an important part of daily life in Indonesia and offer tourists the opportunity to experience the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Tourists are attracted to Indonesia for a variety of reasons, including its rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes and vibrant nightlife. Cultural festivals and typical celebrations add an extra dimension to the visit and offer a unique insight into the country’s history, beliefs and way of life.