Festivals and cultural events in Brunei are celebrated with passion and a sumptuous show of colour and beauty. If you are planning a trip to ‘the green heart of Borneo – the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures’ then be sure to schedule your trip at a time when you’ll catch the country at its best.
National Day, Feb 23
The history of Brunei is said to reach back to the seventh century so it’s no wonder that the people put a special effort into celebrating their country’s National Day. Preparations begin up to two months before the big day with school children and civil servants practising synchronised dances and flash card formations. There are also official thanksgiving ceremonies including the raising and lowering of the flag. Make sure you book central accommodation in Brunei to be at the heart of the action.
Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day, May 31
The formation of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces is tied in with the path towards Brunei’s independence from Britain in the 1980s. A British protectorate since 1888 Brunei started training its forces in 1961 with just 60 recruits. They still maintain close links with the British Armed Forces as well as working in co-operation with those of Malaysia and Singapore. If you like military parades then this is the holiday for you. There are numerous displays and marches around the city including parachute displays and mock battles.
The Sultan’s Birthday, July 15
Seen as one of the most important days of the year, His Majesty the Sultan’s birthday is celebrated county-wide each year. This auspicious day sees the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city, decorated in yellow, black and red and many images of the Sultan hung from buildings. The day is a public holiday and draws in tourists globally and from the neighbouring countries hoping to see the Sultana and experience cultural performances. There are many cultural events and shows that people can attend. Go there to marvel at the popularity of an absolute monarch and enjoy the colourful parades, theatrical shows and of course delicious local food – even if you aren’t invited to the official Royal banquet.
There are a couple of other public holiday celebrations in Brunei including Teacher’s Day on September 23rd and Public Service Day on September 29th. As Brunei is a Muslim country there are also celebrations for Ramadan and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The main religious festival is Hari Raya Aidilfitri marking the end of the month of fasting for Ramadan. This is a special time for the people of Brunei who feast on festive dishes like rice cakes, satay and rendang.
It is also possible to meet the Sultan himself as he opens the doors of his 1,700 room palace to visitors. The Chinese minority in Brunei also celebrate Chinese New Year. The celebrations go on for a full two weeks with family dinners and feasting. A highlight for younger family members is the gift of money in small red envelopes. Christmas Day is also marked in the Brunei festive calendar though it is not widely celebrated. You will mainly see decorations for this Christian festival in the capital city where the majority of ex-pats live.