Mauritius is a blend of diverse cultures and religions. Our population coming from three continents has brought traditions and beliefs from their ancestral countries. Religious festivals are celebrated in a spirit of peace and harmony throughout the year.
December / January / February
Fire Walking: This Tamil ceremony takes place between December and February. After ten days of purification, meditation and praying, penitents go to the temple where they walk slowly across a pit of burning coal – said to represent the outstretched sari of Draupadee – before dipping their feet in milk to cool down.
Holi: This is an important time for joy and sharing in the Indian calendar. During this frenzied but always good-natured event, men, women and children throw coloured water and powder on each other while wishing one another good fortune.
Id-El- Fitr: Signalling the end of Ramadan – the fasting period for people of Muslim faith – Id-El-Fitr sees participants exchanging gifts, giving alms to the poor, and visiting their families and friends to wish them good fortune for the months ahead.
Thaipoosum Cavadee: Celebrated in honour of God Muruga, the son of Lord Shiva, Thaipoosum Cavadee is not only the most important festival in the Tamil calendar, but also the most spectacular. After ten days of fasting and prayers in January / February, devotees embark on a pilgrimage to local Kovils (Tamil temples). Throughout the procession, these devotees carry ‘cavadees’: carved, wooden structures decorated with leaves, flowers, fruits and photographs of saints, each designed to honour Lord Muruga. The celebration has gained notoriety in recent years because many of the devotees pierce certain parts of their anatomy with fine needles, including their cheeks, backs and chests.
Chinese Spring Festival: Chinese New Year Day is celebrated each year on a different date because of variations between the lunar and solar calendars. According to Chinese custom, no scissors or knives can be used on the day of the festival. Red – a traditional symbol of happiness – is the dominant colour, and food is offered to attendees to ensure abundance during the year. A wax cake is, for example, customarily shared between relatives and friends. Firecrackers are set off to drive away evil spirits, but the ‘pièce de résistance’ is the famous Dragon Feast – performed a few days into the New Year – when Chinese dancers and musicians take to the roads and perform the traditional Lion dances.
Maha Shivratree: In this festival, thousands of pilgrims, all dressed in white, walk long distances and converge on the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, carrying the ‘Kanwar’ – wooden arches covered with flowers and small mirrors. Maha Shivratree is celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva. Hindu devotees fetch holy water from the lake and ceremonies take place over three to four days. The whole scene is reminiscent of the great rituals that take place on the banks of the Holy Ganges in India.
March / April
12th of March, National Day: Independence Day is celebrated with great national pride all the way across Mauritius.
Ougadi: This festival celebrates the New Year of the Telegu – an Indian ethnic group – and is characterised by the preparation of elaborate family meals, cultural shows and the distribution of prayers, cakes and sweets between relatives and friends.
August / September
Ganesh Chaturthi: Celebrated by Hindus on of the fourth day of the lunar month in August / September, this festival commemorates the birth of the Hindu God Ganesh. Small replicas of the God, with its elephant head, are taken to the beaches or to riverbanks so they can be immersed before sunset.
Père Laval pilgrimage: Every 9th September, Mauritians of all faiths walk or drive to Sainte-Croix near Port Louis to visit the tomb of the Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval – the ‘Apostle of the Black People’. The celebration around Père Laval, who is believed to have healing powers, reminds us of the fervour of the Lourdes pilgrimage in France. Interestingly, Father Laval was the first person beatified in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
October / November
Divali: Celebrated in October / November, Divali marks the victory of Rama over Ravana: of light (truth) over darkness (ignorance). It also commemorates Krishna’s destruction of the demon Narakasuram.
During this festival, small clay lamps are lined up on walls and balconies and in yards. They are lit at sunset and their golden beams – believed to guide the Goddess of wealth and good fortune into the lantern owner’s house – can be seen everywhere across the island.
There are 15 annual public holidays in Mauritius. Seven of these are fixed holidays: 1st and 2nd January; 1st February; 12th March; 1st May; 2nd November; and 25th December. The remaining public holidays are religious festivals with dates that vary from year to year.
2013 Public Holidays
1st-2nd January – New Year
27th January – Thaipoosam Cavadee
1st February – Abolition of Slavery
10th February – Chinese Spring Festival
10th March – Maha Shivaratree
12th March – National Day
11th April– Ougadi
1st May – Labour Day
9th August – Eid-Ul-Fitr *
10th September – Ganesh Chaturthi
1st November – All Saints Day
2nd November – Arrival of Indentured Labourers
3rd November – Diwali
25th December – Christmas
* NOTE: Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon. The dates given above are therefore approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Eid al-Fitr, Muslims fast during the day and feast at night. Normal business patterns may be interrupted as a result. Many restaurants are closed during the day and there may be restrictions on smoking and drinking in other locations. Some disruption may continue into Eid al-Fitr itself. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha may last anything from two to ten days, depending on the region.