In the weeks leading up to the New Year it is customary to repaint the house, clean all the rooms and remove unwanted items. New clothes are also purchased around this time and sweetmeats are prepared. At a specified time (which is chosen to bring good fortune for the coming year) the traditional oil lamp is lit.
On the day prior to the New Year the Sinhalese people take their last bath of the year. All work related activities are ceased and people involve themselves with spiritual activities such as visiting the temple.
The New Year dawns with the sound of firecrackers and the beating of the Rabana – a traditional Sri Lankan drum. The Sinhala households come to life as everyone prepared for the New Year rituals to follow.
Again, at a predetermined time the lady of the household first worships and then lights the hearth. The direction in which the hearth faces changes from year to year and once lit it is customary to cook the traditional dish of Kiribath or boil a pot of milk as the family watch on.
Next the family have their first meal of the year at the Avurudu table, where various sweetmeats and delicacies have been laid out. First, the head of the family shares out the Kiribath (the traditional New Year dish) to the other family members around the table and then the oil lamp is lit to mark the start of the feast.
After the New Year meal the younger family members show respect to their elders by offering sheaves of betel. In return the elders bless them and give them money – the first financial transaction of the New Year known as Ganu Denu.
Next, it is traditional to exchange sweets amongst neighbours and visit friends and family to strengthen relationships for the New Year.
At a specified time the anointing oil ritual is performed either at home or at the temple. The ritual blesses the person and purifies both mind and body. This is done by the head of the family or chief of the temple who stands on leaves and flowers while chanting verses.
Once all the customary rituals are complete the celebrations move out onto the streets where fun activities and traditional games are played among family and friends in a joyous atmosphere.