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Sinhalese New Year Celebration, Sri Lanka

00 New Years, Polonnaruwa

Tomorrow, April 14th, is New Year’s Day in Sri Lanka.  Sinhalese Buddhists call it ‘Aluth Avurudu’, while Tamil Hindus name it ‘Puthandu’.  My last visit to Sri Lanka coincided with this celebration, which I thought I’d share with you today. 

The date and time of Sri Lanka’s New Year’s is determined by astrologists, but  always falls between April 12th and 15th (depending on the cycle of the moon).  It’s a celebration based partially in superstitions — a way to hope for a good harvest and prosperous year.  New Year’s is a time to put on some new clothes and visit friends, family or a temple, and to enjoy good food.  Parades are held, although we didn’t go to one.  Almost everything — guest services and shops, including public transporation — is closed for the celebration.  Not a drop of liquor is available so plan ahead if this is important to you.

01 New Years, Polonnaruwa

We spent New Year’s at a nice hotel in Polonnaruwa, the Heritage, very close to the archaeologic site.  The place is run by a nice family who invited us to participate in the celebration with them and a few other guests.

02 New Years, Polonnaruwa

New Year’s occurred in the morning during my visit (the time of day the New Year begins is determined by astrologists).  The day started with the building of a fire in the hotel lobby, something I think Fire Marshalls in most countries would not approve of.  When the flames were hot enough, a pot of milk was placed on the flames and brought to a boil, to the point where it overflowed.  This is considered auspicious and indicative of a good year.

03 New Years, Polonnaruwa

04 New Years, Polonnaruwa

After the milk had boiled, we went to the dining room where we enjoyed a special New Year’s meal, heavy on sweet treats (but delicious).  I’m told this is typical of the New Year’s meal served around the country.  It included:

Kiribath.  The main dish, rice prepared with the coconut milk, which provides the rice a distinctive flavor and sticky consistency.  It is usually cut into squares or diamond shaped pieces and served with a sauce.

Kiribath – rice prepared with coconut milk New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (29)

Bananas.  Another dish you see at New Year’s celebrations, or served at any important event.  They symbolize prosperity.

Bananas. New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (15)

Kawum is a small oil cake prepared using rice flour and treacle (a sweet syrup derived from the coconut palm’s flowers).

Konde Kawum. New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (17)

Kokis are crisp and lightly fried wheel-shaped sweets — crunchy, like chips.  It is thought they were introduced by the Dutch.   The yellow color comes from the addition of turmeric.

Kokis New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (11)

String Hoppers:  A dish typical of the country, but not part of the usual New Year’s celebration.  Still, I enjoyed them often with breakfast, including on this New Year’s morning.

String hoppers. New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (20)


Toffee. New Years and Hotel, Polonnaruwa (13)

Butter cake:  A common dish frequently served at many Sri Lankan meals.  It can be seen in some of the above photos.

It was interesting to be part of the celebration.  I’m grateful for the hospitality and kindness I was shown

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrows to advance slideshow)

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