The popular festivals in Madagascar are a mix between Catholic festivals and tribal festivals. This country is not only peculiar for its original unique biodiversity, but also for its deep-rooted customs.
To understand the popular festivals and festivities in Madagascar, you should keep in mind that approximately 55% of the population follow traditional beliefs and practices. The remaining 40% practice Christianity, both Catholics and Protestants, while only 5% are followers of Islam.
One of the things you have to know is that, for the Malagasy, the soul is immortal, therefore, they consider death to be the most important part of life. One of the most relevant popular festivals in Madagascar follows this belief: the Famadihana Festival or The Turning of the Bones.
This festival is held every seven or nine years, there is no specific date for it. During the ceremony, the graves of deceased loved ones are exhumed. Then, with the bodies on their heads, relatives take the dead in a procession back to the town or a special place where they continue the ceremony. During the ceremony, the living relatives share a party with the dead where they eat, drink and even dance with the bodies.
In addition to this peculiar celebration, in Madagascar there are also other deeply rooted traditions. These include the custom of burying the umbilical cord of new-born children. Another custom related to babies is to cut some of their hair when they turn three months old. The baby's hair is mixed with honey and roots and relatives eat it as a rite of passage.
Furthermore, all Malagasy houses should face west, since they consider that sunlight is at its best when it sets. In turn, the head of the bed should face north, a place of power. And if you have to take a trip or go to an important event, never leave home without receiving the blessing of the elderly, for their blessings are powerful.
But let's continue with the popular festivals in Madagascar, to see which festivities are celebrated each month, and which are most prominent.
On January 1, the Malagasy celebrate the Catholic New Year, but also the Taom-baovao, or Malagasy New Year, of which the date varies each year.
February and March
Towards the end of February and beginning of March, depending on the year, Alahamadi is celebrated, a popular festival where music never stops and both locals and tourists enjoy various shows. On top of that, 29th March is the Martyrs Day of the 1947 Insurrection, or Martioran`ny tolona tamin`ny.
April and May
In April, after the first full moon of spring, Alatsinain`ny Paska is celebrated, Easter Monday. At the end of May however, one of the most beautiful folk festivals in Madagascar takes place, the Santabary or celebration of the first rice harvest.
Also in May, the 25th, is the Day of the O.U.A. (Organization of African Unity), Andronì Afrika, or commemoration of the creation of the Organization for Unity of Africa. This organization was replaced by the UA (African Union) on 9th July 2002.
June and July
If you are in Madagascar in June, you can attend the Traditional Music Festival in Nosy Be. You can also attend the Donia Music Festival that is usually held in early June. But in this month, the most important holiday in Madagascar is Independence Day, Fetim-Pyrenees, Madagascar's Independence from the French colonisation, on June 26th.
August and September
In Madagascar on August 15th, the Assumption, or Asompsiona, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is also celebrated. And if you are in Antananarivo on September 27, you can attend one of the most original popular parties in Madagascar: St. Vincent de Paul Day, a feast of universal repentance and compassion. On this day, you can see the performances of local Hira-gashi theatres and fireworks.
November and December
On November 1st Madagascar also celebrates All Saints' Day or Fetin’ny olomasina. Between November and December the Gasytsara Music Festival also takes place. But it is in December that locals celebrate Christmas or Krsmasy altogether. For local residents Christmas is one of their most important festivities, and on that day, they sing hymns and organise performances and concerts.
As you can see, October is the only month where there are no popular festivals in Madagascar. The rest of the year you can complete your trip by attending one of the most traditional festivities.