Indonesia festivals celebrate the country's multi-ethnic background, with celebrations devoted to Hindu, Muslim, secular, and local ethnic traditions. These holidays are only the most prominent ones known - in a country about as wide and twice as populous as the United States, there's bound to be a celebration going on somewhere on any given day!
Cap Goh Meh in Singkawang
In West Kalimantan Province, Singkawang's sizeable ethnic Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year with the keen participation of Malay and Dayak communities as well. The 15th day of Chinese New Year - “Cap Goh Meh” - is particularly cherished by locals, who believe that the gods converge on Singkawang during this time of year.
Beyond the lion and dragon dances, Cap Goh Meh in Singkawang is most well known for its Tatung spiritual mediums, who ward off evil spirits and dispel misfortune by going into trances and performing seeming self-mutilation – piercing skewers through their cheeks and tongues, stepping on swords, and the like.
While the festival occurs all throughout Singkawang, the biggest party takes place in and around the Kridasana Stadium in the middle of the city.
Festival date: 19 February 2019
Waisak in Borobudur
Waisak is, for Indonesian Buddhists, a celebration of the Buddha's birth, death and enlightenment.
On the full moon that marks the eve of the festival, the massive mandala of Borobudur in Magelang becomes the focus for a solemn procession in the moonlight. Thousands of Buddhists – monks, nuns, and laypeople alike – walk from Mendut Temple, carrying a holy fire and a container of holy water to an altar on the west side of Borobudur.
After circling three times clockwise around Borobudur and receiving blessings from holy Buddhist gurus, the crowd releases about a thousand sky lanterns, with a wish for enlightenment to spread across humankind.
Festival date: 19 May 2019
Bali Arts Festival
The culture-crazy island of Bali becomes the focal point for one of Indonesia's biggest arts festivals every July. First established in 1979 as “the basic forum for the growth of our love of the arts,” as expressed by Bali's then-Governor Ida Bagus Mantra, the celebration has grown by leaps and bounds in the ensuing decades, now bringing together artists and disciplines from not just Bali, but from all over Indonesia.
On the second Saturday of June every year, the festival kicks off at the Werdi Budaya Art Center in Denpasar, with any number of cultural events taking place on the grounds, from barong dances to sendratari (Balinese ballet) recitals. Other highlights include documentary screenings, cooking exhibitions, arts exhibits, and live gamelan orchestras.
Festival date: 16 June - 14 July 2019
Jakarta Fair Kemayoran
The Indonesian capital of Jakarta hosts Indonesia's largest fair every June at the Jakarta International Exhibition Center. Held to coincide with the city's founding anniversary on June 22, the Jakarta Fair unfolds over the span of a whole month, with exhibits featuring musical acts, carnivals, and the Miss Jakarta pageant.
Originally conceived as a night market and held on Merdeka Square (the present location of the National Monument, or Monas), the Fair eventually outgrew the original premises and moved to Kemayoran near the old airport site.
Shoppers will love the 2,000-odd pavilions exhibiting some of Indonesia's finest handicrafts, produce and other products – not to mention low, low prices on electronics, health products, and assorted other stuff. The exhibitions also feature some of Indonesia's best street food, all in one convenient location.
Festival date: 22 June 2017
The Toraja community in the highlands of South Sulawesi welcome the world to their annual festival every August, each festival showcasing a different ritual native to their culture.
The “International” part comes from the special participation of global artists – previous participants included Tony Jayatissa from Malaysia, the Vieux Cissokho & Maryam Kouyate from Senegal, and Kuweit Tune from the Middle East.
Cultural fans will love both the performances and the festival's backdrop – the Toraja villages with their unique upturned-roof houses.
Festival date: 5-8 July 2019
Yadnya Kasada on Bromo
The Tenggerese who live in the farmlands surrounding Mount Bromo trace their descent to Majapahit-era Hindus who fled to the mountains after the coming of Islam. They believe that their ancestors, a couple named Roro Anteng and Joko Seger, ended years of childlessness by successfully petitioning the gods for children. After 24 children, the gods decreed, the couple had to throw the 25th into the volcano crater as an offering. (Read about climbing active volcanoes in Indonesia.)
Today's Tenggerese do not descend to human sacrifice, but on the 14th day of the Kasada month, they congregate to the Bromo crater to sacrifice other things: money, live chickens, flowers and food. (Non-Hindu locals aren't as reverent; they clamber down the crater to pick up the sacrifices intended for the gods!)
The festival is open to outsiders, but you'll need to stay close to the crater.
Festival date: 17-18 July 2019
Dieng Cultural Festival
The children of the mist-shrouded Dieng plateau in Central Java share a gift from the ancestors: upon reaching a certain age, their straight hair naturally forms into dreadlocks. When this happens, the children wait till August, when their hair is ritually shaven off in a ceremonial collectively called the Ruwatan Anak Gimbal.
For the Dieng locals, the ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate – the 8th-century Dieng Temple complex, the site of the hair shaving ceremony, becomes the focus for several days of feasting, shadow play performances, fireworks, and the release of traditional lanterns.
To add a more modern spin to the party, a film festival also coincides with the traditional festivities.
Festival date: 1-4 August 2019
Baliem Valley Festival
The Baliem Valley Festival shines a spotlight on an off-the-beaten-path part of the country, Indonesian Papua. To get to Baliem Valley, you'll need to climb up the Jayawijaya Mountains on the island of New Guinea, stopping when you reach a magnificent valley up in the clouds.
During the Festival, Baliem Valley's tribes put on their best traditional garb, and perform Papuan cultural traditions, including pig-racing and spear-throwing contests. The biggest event – a mock war held over two days – involves about fifty warriors in full battle dress, fighting it out as the strains of Pikon music wafts through the air.
Beyond watching the festivities and eating the local food, travelers can put on the traditional koteka (penis sheath) to better experience the Papuan way of life!
Festival date: 7-9 August, 2019
Bandung, city of volcanoes and colonial buildings, is known primarily for its cheap clothes shopping, drawing from the abundance of clothing factories around West Java. The factory outlets churn out cheap but genuine branded clothes all year round, but the city turns the bargains up to eleven during the Bandung Great Sale.
Taking place for a full month between September and October, the Bandung Great Sale brings together the city's many factory outlets, malls, and dining outlets for the singular purpose of low, low prices on everything. Not even hospitals and meatball soup carts are immune!
The factory outlets, mainly located down Juanda, Riau and Setiabudi streets, draw thousands of visitors from all over the region (Malaysians fly straight from Kuala Lumpur to Bandung for the sale).
Festival date: September 7 - October 6, 2019
Lake Toba Festival
For five days every December, the Lake Toba Festival puts North Sumatra's cultural gifts on display for the world to see. The native Batak of Lake Toba throw a feast as thanksgiving for the year's blessings, including displays of Batak opera, tortor dance, and exhibitions of ulos weaving and boat races.
The placid Lake Toba belies its violent history; formerly ground zero for a massive volcanic explosion over 70,000 years ago, the lake and its Samosir island now serve as a home for North Sumatra's Bataks, who fish and trade around the lake. Today, Lake Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia, and one of its deepest.
Festival date: 9-12 December 2019