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KEY HOLIDAYS & POYA DAYS

The great thing about Sri Lanka (if you’re in for the long haul) is the number of holidays. As a Buddhist country, Sri Lanka takes the full moon very seriously. Full-Moons are called Poya days here. And every Poya day is a holiday! Obviously, this will not apply if you are in embassies or  trades like hospitality, retail and restaurants, but for the majority of businesses it is a guaranteed day off each month unless you have the bad fortune to have a Poya fall on a weekend. It must be noted though that Poya is an excise holiday and no liquor is sold or served across the island on Poya. So, if you are looking for a boozy Poya, you will need to plan ahead and stock up before-hand.

The T&T team has compiled a general list by month of some of the important holidays you can expect to affect Colombo life. *the dates of some holidays are set according to a lunar calendar, so may occur in one month or the other (on a Gregorian calendar)

January Thai Pongal Public, Bank & Mercantile This is a Hindu festival and celebrates the winter harvest.
Duruthu Poya Public, Bank & Mercantile This poya is special because there is a perahera (a Sinhalese cultural pageant that travels through the city) held in Colombo to celebrate this pageant.
February Independence Day Public, Bank & Mercantile Sri Lanka won its independence from Britain in 1948. This is mainly a day of rest with commemorative celebration taking place across the island..
Navam Poya Public, Bank & Mercantile This poya is marked by a beautiful Perahera taking place in the center of Colombo. This starts at the Gangaramaya temple in Colombo and snakes its way around some of the nicest parts of the city.
February/March Maha Sivarathri Public & Bank Private businesses remain open on this day with Tamil employees taking the day. The day celebrates the marriage of two of the Hindu pantheon’s most sacred gods.
April Good Friday & Easter Sunday (sometimes March) Public, Bank & Mercantile Though Easter in Sri Lanka has been marred by the 2019 Easter bombings, it is still an important occasion in the Christian calendar with most businesses closing for Good Friday & Easter.
Sinhala & Tamil New Year. Public, Bank & Mercantile The biggest holiday in Sri Lanka is the Sinhala & Tamil New Year (or Avurudu) which takes place around the 13th & 14th of April each year. The New Year traditionally marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of spring.
May Vesak Poya Public, Bank & Mercantile Vesak poya is arguably the most important occasion in the Buddhist calendar. Vesak celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha and is a 2-day holiday. It is a very decorative time in Colombo, with people hanging up various shapes and colours of paper lanterns as well as the construction of large electric tableaus depicting Buddhist lore.
June Poson Poya Public, Bank & Mercantile Poson poya is another hugely significant occasion in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Main festivities take place out of Colombo, but it is quite a big deal in the city also.
July/August Esala Poya Public, Bank & Mercantile Another big poya, this is the poya with the most famous (and largest) perahera which takes place in Kandy.
October/November Deepavali Public & Bank Private businesses remain open on this day with Tamil employees taking the day. The day celebrates the Hindu festival of lights.
December Christmas Public, Bank & Mercantile Christmas needs no explanation, its global 😀 While not as big a deal as it is in the West, it is still a major holiday.

T&T TIP: Avurudu, or the Sinhala & Tamil New Year is a BIG deal, which then leads into Vesak.  Things are changing in Colombo, but people really see this period as holiday-time and it is tricky to get work done. It is normally a 3-day affair with various traditions practiced. Generally, the country takes a 3-4 day break for Avurudu, with most companies giving employees a week off to celebrate and spend time with their families. In the past, Colombo would generally shut down and become a bit of a ghost-town with everyone busy celebrating and all the out-of-Colombo inhabitants going back to their hometowns for the holiday. But this has become less and less pronounced as the years go on. Be aware though, that many businesses will be shut and getting around out of Colombo will be a little more difficult for these days.

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