Madagascar — Festivals and Events
Pop culture is seen in vibrant festivals throughout the year all over Madagascar, with many events attracting a significant number of tourists. The celebrations are based on a variety of traditions ranging from holy days to cultural rituals and national holidays, with the Santabari festival and Donia Music Festival two of the favorites.
New Year’s Day
The Malagasy people celebrate New Year’s Day along with the rest of the world from midnight on December 31 through January 1. Family visits, eating out and street parties mark the occasion.
Alahamadi Be is Madagascar’s traditional New Year’s Day, which takes place in March and lasts for two days. Crowds hit the street in celebration, homes are decorated in lights and friends and family visit to wish eachother well. Traditional music and dance plays a part in the festivities.
Also held in March on the 29th, Martyrs’ Day commemorates the 1947 rebellion against French colonial rule which eventually led to Madagascar’s independence after thousands of lives had been lost. The day is a public holiday in which the dead are memorialized for their sacrifices.
The most important Christian festival of the year, Easter falls either in March or April, and is marked by religious services at Madagascar’s many churches and cathedrals.
The Santabary Festival is ancient in origin, and takes place in late April/early May to give thanks for the year’s first rice harvest. Eating, drinking, traditional music and dance are all part of the celebrations, and local customs vary across the country.
Labour Day, held on May 1, is a national holiday, with city folks taking the time to visit the countryside and beaches for picnics and a day of relaxation.
Independence Day in Madagascar is June 26, a national holiday which commemorates the country’s final shaking of colonial rule. It’s celebrated all across the archipelago with feasting, drinking, music, and dance.
The carnival atmosphere of Feria Oramena held in June focuses on Madagascar’s favorite seafood, lobsters. Shows, exhibitions and lots of fish dishes are enjoyed by all.
The Fisemana festival, held by the Antakarana people, is a purification ritual taking place every June. The customs go back centuries and are performed by local soothsayers.
This traditional event, known as the turning of the bones, is a three-month family-oriented ritual beginning in June in Madagascar. The bodies of recently-passed family members and ancestors are taken from the crypt, re-dressed in silk shrouds and reburied.
This much-loved July event is a traditional form of entertainment in Madagascar, first seen in the 18th century. Competing players perform a five-themed spectacle of oratory, dance, music, drinking and eating contests amid much merriment.
Donia Music Festival
Held in September at the Hell-Ville Stadium on Nosy Be Island, the Donia Music Festival is a combination of Malagasy music, sport and cultural events. The festivities last for a full week and draw in over 40,000 spectators.
October’s Maddajazzcar is a massive, two-week long celebration of jazz held in venues all over the capital. International musicians, singers and thousands of visitors attend the events.
The second major Christian festival in Madagascar, Christmas is a time of church services, Yuletide parties and family festivities across the country.