Multicultural Indonesia celebrates a variety of religious holidays and festivals, but most celebrations are effectively confined to small areas (e.g. the Hindu festivals on Bali). All Indonesians, regardless of religion, get a day off on these holidays:
- 1 January: New Year’s Day (Tahun Baru Masehi)
- A day between mid-January and mid-February: Tahun Baru Imlek (Chinese New Year). The festivals are mainly confined to Chinese-populated areas
- One day in March: Nyepi (Hindu New Year). It is not advisable to be in Bali on this day. The whole island is closed on this day, even the airport and the ports. Non-observers are at least advised not to be outdoors.
- A Friday in March or April: Wafat Isa Al-Masih (Good Friday). The Catholic communities on Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara perform the Stations of the Cross before this day. It is advisable to travel to this area.
- 1 May: Hari Buruh Internasional (International Labour Day)
- A Thursday in May: Kenaikan Isa Al-Masih (Ascension Day)
- A day in May or June: Waisak (Vesak Day). Some Buddhist monks lead a pilgrimage to the infamous Borobudur temple.
- 17 August: Hari Kemerdekaan (Independence Day). Raising of the flag at home and in most communities, traditional Indonesian games with prizes!
- 25 December: Hari Natal (Christmas Day)
(Muslim holidays can be moved back by 11 days each year):
- Tahun Baru Hijiriah (Islamic New Year)
- Maulid Nabi (Birth of the Prophet Muhammad)
- Isra Miraj (Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad)
- 2 days holiday Idul Fitri (Eid, end of the 30-day fasting period Ramadhan)
Note that the government also makes up to 6-7 days in a row (including Sunday and the Eid holidays) each year. The rule of thumb is a few days before and after the Eid holidays or the day between two holidays, so 3 days off.
The most important time of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. During this period of 30 lunar days, Muslims refrain from bringing anything to their lips (food, drink, smoking and even medicine) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early to eat enough for the day before sunrise (sahur), go to work late and leave early to be back home in time to break the fast (buka puasa) at sunset. Generally, this activity usually begins with a snack of something sweet, which is followed by a complete and snack until bedtime. In theory, people are not supposed to overeat during this time, as the point of fasting is to experience what it is like to be extremely poor, but some Muslims do not comply. Non-Muslims, as well as travelling (musafir), sick or menstruating and engaged in heavy labour (buruh or kuli) Muslims are exempt from fasting, but it is polite not to eat or drink in public. Many restaurants close, but those that remain open during fasting keep a low profile, often with curtains covering the windows, but in strictly Islamic areas vendors close completely and do not open until 4pm. All forms of nightlife, including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours, usually close at midnight, and (especially in more pious areas) some choose to remain closed altogether. Business travellers will notice that things move even slower than usual, and especially towards the end of the month, many people will take holidays. When you are hanging out with Indonesians, they might not say anything out of courtesy if you eat or drink in front of them, however, you really should at least ask permission first and avoid it if possible except when it is openly and clearly requested.
The highlight at the end of the month is the two days of Idul Fitri (Indonesian: Lebaran), when pretty much the whole country takes a week or two off to go home and visit family, in a ritual known locally as Mudik, meaning “going home”. This is the few time of year when Jakarta has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, with all means of transport packed and travel time can easily be three times the norm. All government offices (including embassies) and many shops close for a week or even two, and travel in Indonesia is best avoided if at all possible. Most, if not all, shops are closed on this holiday, and many that do open start late due to Eid al-Fitr prayers.