Festivals in Singapore
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, with Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic groups comprising its sociocultural fabric. The influx of foreigners in recent times has lent a cosmopolitan image and Singapore’s lifestyle is multi-cultural. Each of the ethnic communities maintain their unique way of life and at the same time live harmoniously. Given this unique blend of cultures and people, Singapore’s event calendar is marked with holidays and celebrations all year round. Festivals range from religious celebrations, socio-cultural festivities and sports events.
New Years Day
The year begins with festivities and every New Year heralds celebrations in Singapore. There are several venues that hold New Year’s Eve Countdown Parties for the public. The most popular waterfront events are ‘The Marina Bay Singapore Countdown’ and ‘Siloso Beach Party’ at Sentosa. Most of the Singaporeans frequent either of these locations to enjoy the public performances and witness the impressive fireworks display. Other popular party spots can be found along Orchard Road, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
Chinese New Year
The date of the Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year) is determined by the lunar calendar and it often falls in either January or February each year. To prepare for the arrival of this day, Chinatown is usually filled with stores selling New Year gifts, decorations and gift hampers.
Being a major event on the Chinese calendar, the Chinese residents celebrate this occasion in stylish red or gold colors. Spring cleaning for this festive season is essential to most Chinese and it is a common sight to see red pieces of paper with Chinese calligraphy bearing good wishes placed onto doors and walls. Lasting for 15 days, the eve and first two days are public holidays in Singapore. The distribution of Hong Bao (red packets containing money) by parents and relatives to unmarried children is a common practice during this festive season.
Amidst the celebration for the Lunar New Year, a Chingay Parade is held to reflect the cosmopolitan vitality of the country. Chingay, which basically means the art of masquerading, has evolved into a national event featuring floats and performances by both local and foreign groups.
Qing Ming (Clear and Bright Festival)
Usually held on 4 or 5 April to celebrate the clear and bright days of spring, Qing Ming is also a time for the remembrance of ancestors, and it is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day. During the festival the graves of ancestors are visited and tended. The festival promotes filial piety and a sense of gratitude to one’s ancestors and draws thousands of people to local temples.
Hungry Ghost Festival
The seventh month of the lunar calendar is when the hungry ghost festival is celebrated. This event is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated worldwide by Chinese people and it involves the offering of food and burning of offerings (i.e., incense and papier-mâché material items such as clothes, gold, cars and houses) as a form of ancestor worship with the meaning of extending filial piety from descendants to their ancestors even after their deaths.
These offerings can be seen along roadsides and on open grounds as a means of appeasing and respecting the departed. In some areas of Singapore, you may even chance upon Wayangs (Chinese operas) which are staged to entertain the wandering spirits during this festival.
Mid-Autumn Festivals (Moon cake/ Lantern Festival)
The Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, is also known as the Moon cake or Lantern Festival. Round ‘moon’ cakes with a variety of sweet and savory fillings appear in shops, and paper lanterns of all colors, shapes and sizes are also sold.
Several interesting legends are connected with this festival but, basically, the moon cakes signify unity and a cycle completed – traditionally, the end of the farming year and an abundant harvest. In Singapore, lantern competitions are held and the winning lanterns exhibited in a fairyland of lights and color in the Chinese Garden.
Falling in April or May, Vesak Day celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. This event is marked by various celebrations, including the release of caged birds to symbolize the setting free of captive souls. Gifts are distributed by charitable organizations to the poor and needy, regardless of their race or religion. Buddhist youths participate in mass blood donation exercises held in hospitals. Vesak celebrations in Singapore are also marked by mass candlelight processions, in which thousands of devotees chant sutras (holy verses) and pay homage to the Buddha. The highlight of the festival is a mass religious and cultural gathering held at either the Singapore Indoor Stadium or a major public theater.
Hari Raya Puasa
Marking the end of Ramadan (which is a month long period where fasting takes place from sunrise to sunset) is the biggest event of the Muslim calendar. The Hari Raya Aidilfitri festivities take centre stage in Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam and it is worth visiting these areas during this time to take in the joyous nature of the Muslim celebrants.
This is a time where you will see Malay families dressed up in their best traditional outfit to mark this special occasion. Similar to the Chinese during Chinese New Year, the Malays also have the tradition of giving ang pao but on this occasion it is known as duit raya and they are given in green packets.
This is a festival when Little India is filled with lights, music, scents, arts and performances. Known also as the “Festival of lights”, it is an occasion of rejoice for both Hindus and Sikhs. It marks the beginning of a New Year for certain North Indians, while some believe that the departed souls of relatives will descend during this time and rows of tiny oil lamps are used to guide them on a journey to the next world.
During this festival, new clothes are worn, and vibrant and colorful lights, festive bazaars and cultural activities enliven the streets of Little India. At this time, you will be able to feast on Indian delicacies and enjoy cultural heritage, crafts and more in this small district of Singapore.
Hari Raya Haji
Approximately 70 days after the celebrations of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, comes the ancient Muslim festival Raya Haji (or also known as the “Festival of Sacrifice”). This is a time of sacrifice that is celebrated over three days by Muslims all over the world.
The festival starts off with prayers by the male volunteers and a sacrifice of sheep, goats and cows to symbolize Phophet Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his own flesh and blood.
Tamil New Year
The Tamil New Year begins on the day the sun enters the zodiacal house Medam (Aries), in the month of Chithirai (between April and May). To herald in the New Year, morning worship (puja) is held in temples in honor of Surya, the Sun God – the remover of all darkness and gloom. Orthodox Hindus rise early for a ritual bath and elaborate worship at the family shrine. The first meal is then taken at a predetermined auspicious time. Temple visits and visits to relatives and friends follow. The Hindu Almanac for the New Year is published at this time. It lays down in detail the positions of the planets and the stars at New Year, and gives a reading of the significance of these signs, pointing to what is auspicious.
A Hindu celebration, popular with the Tamils, which has been banned in some countries. Held in October, when devotees honor Lord Subramaniam by piercing their bodies with needles. A procession marches from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road to the Chettiar Hindu Temple on Tank Road. Kavadis (metal structures adorned with feathers, effigies and containers of milk) are carried on the shoulders or attached to the body with metal piercing.
Thimithi, the fire-walking ceremony, is conducted at the Sri Mariamman Temple in the month of Aipasi, between October and November. Like Thaipusam, the devotees go in procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to the Sri Mariamman Temple, led by a priest. After the priest has ceremonially walked on a bed of burning coal, the devotees follow one by one, witnessed by thousands of people assembled in the temple.
Despite not experiencing the four northern hemisphere seasons, Singaporeans celebrate Christmas in a similar way to Western countries. Seasonal decorations light-up the entire shopping strip of Orchard Road and choirs sing carols and street performers add to the festive fun.
This is a time where you can do your Christmas shopping without the fear of a snow storm. Every nook and corner will be filled with great deals from shopping to dining options to satisfy all needs in the season of giving.
Good Friday is a solemn festival which marks the trial and crucifixion of Christ. Good Friday services include the holy communion, during which those who participate remember Christ’s sacrifice. Easter, which falls on the Sunday after Good Friday, is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. This is very important to Christians because they believe it signifies the victory of Christ over death, bringing the gift of eternal life to all who believe in Christ. Both Good Friday and Easter are festivals of remembrance and thanksgiving, marked by prayers and special church services.
Socio-cultural and Sports Festivals
National Day – Singapore’s National Day falls on August 9th and the National Day Parade (NDP) is a commemoration of Singapore’s Independence. One of Singapore’s much anticipated annual events, the NDP witnesses close to 25,000 spectators every year. Held at the Marina Bay, the celebrations include pre-parade light-hearted filler events, followed by the actual parade and ceremonies including the popular Presidential Gun Salute and culminates into a Grand Finale which is a 45 minute show segment, followed by an impressive fireworks display. The atmosphere is charged and most spectators sport the National Flag’s colors of red and white. You will also find the National Flag displayed on the facade of most housing estates across the island.
Singapore Heritage Fest – This festival is an initiative to get to know more about the various cultures in Singapore and their traditions, food, costumes, music, art etc. through a series of exhibitions, heritage tours, culinary events and cultural performances. This is an annual event held in the month of July.
The Great Singapore Sale – One of the most popular and much awaited annual events, held every June – July, the Great Singapore Sale is an absolute shopping extravaganza with retailers providing discounts of up to 70% off the usual prices island wide.
Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF)- The largest film event in Singapore and one of Asia’s premier film festivals, the SIFF is held in April every year. The Festival screens over 200 international films of all genres, with a focus on groundbreaking Asian cinema. Apart from film screenings, the festival also features workshops, seminars and exhibitions on film-making.
Singapore Arts Festival – An island-wide national celebration of the arts, the Festival offers high quality, free and ticketed outdoor performances in theatre arts, dance, music and visual art. Besides local participants, approximately 70% of the events are put up by international artists. It is usually held in the months of May – June.
Singapore Sun Festival – Held in the month of October, the Singapore Sun Festival is an integrated lifestyle event celebrating the “art of living well” through seven key disciplines including Music, Film, Visual Arts, Literature, Cuisine, Wine and Wellness.
Singapore Fashion Festival -The annual two-week long festival, held between March-April, aims to make Singapore the fashion capital of the Southeast Asian region. The Festival highlights include showcasing international and local designers’ collections, fashion shows, exhibitions and related fashion fringe events.
Singapore Food Festival – Held annually in July, the Singapore Food Festival is a celebration of local food. Festival highlights include, food carnivals, trails, workshops, as well as joint food-oriented promotions.
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival – This is a 12-day annual festival of theater, performing arts, film, dance, visual art, mixed media, music and forum, created and presented by both Singaporean and international artists. Held around the end of January, the festival centers around a different theme each year and it aims to bring the best of contemporary, cutting-edge and socially engaged works to the Singapore audience.
Dragon Boat Festival – The highlight of this festival are the dragon boat races which take place annually every June and features both local and international rowers. This is also a great time to enjoy traditional rice dumplings and the festival is also known as ‘The Dumpling Festival’.