Public holidays and festivals
The main Christian religious holidays and the Muslim festival of Id al-Fitr are observed, as well as secular national holidays. Other Muslim festivals are not public holidays but are observed in Muslim areas. Local seasonal and cyclical events, peculiar to particular ethnic groups, are less well advertised.
On the coast, throughout the northeast, and in Muslim communities everywhere, the lunar Islamic calendar is used for religious purposes. The Muslim year has 354 days, so dates recede against the Western calendar by an average of eleven days each year. Only the month of fasting called Ramadan, and the festival of Id al-Fitr – the feast at the end of Ramadan, which begins on the first sighting of the new moon – will have much effect on your travels. In smaller towns in Islamic districts during Ramadan, most stores and hotelis are closed through the daylight hours, while all businesses will close in time for sunset, to break the daily fast. Public transport and most government offices continue as usual. Maulidi, the celebration of the prophet’s birthday, is worth catching if you’re on the coast at the right time, especially if you’ll be in Lamu, where it is celebrated in great style.
There are fewer music and cultural festivals than you might expect. Nairobi has a number of regular events, usually publicized on Facebook. On the coast, the Mombasa carnival used to take place in November, but has not happened for several years, but the Lamu Cultural Festival is a highly recommended regular fixture. Less than two hours west of Nairobi, Kenya’s first annual outdoor music festival, the Rift Valley Festival, has taken root on the shores of Lake Naivasha in late August and makes a great tie-in with a Maasai Mara migration safari. Finally, if you’re visiting in May, do everything possible to catch the extraordinary Lake Turkana Festival – a hugely enjoyable tribal gathering at Loiyangalani.
The Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK; wask.co.ke) puts on a series of annual agricultural shows, featuring livestock and produce competitions, beer and snack tents, as well as some less expected booths, such as family planning and herbalism. These can be lively, revealing events, borrowing a lot from the British farming-show tradition, but infused with Kenyan style.
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