Singapore’s racial diversity and religious freedom has given rise to each ethnic group having its own festivals. There are festivals unique to the Chinese, Malays and Indians. Similarly, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other religions all have different festivals. As a result, almost every month of the year sees a celebration of some form, adding spice and colour, usually enjoyed by the entire population.
Not all Chinese have religions. Some are atheists while others are Christians, Buddhists or Taoists etc. However, the Chinese race traditionally celebrate a host of festivals, all of which have commemorative purposes.
Chinese New Year
This 2-day public holiday falls anywhere from January to February, depending on the Lunar calendar. In actual fact, Chinese New Year lasts a total of 15 days. The eve is meant for families and relatives to have a reunion dinner, with the next 2 days spent visiting friends and other relatives. This is the only time of the year when many businesses and shops close. Chinatown is especially lively and colourful during the weeks preceding and during Chinese New Year. You’ll be treated to dragon dance performances, parades and also be able to shop for New Year food stuff and other goodies.
Qing Ming (Clear and Bright Festival)
To celebrate the clear and bright days of Spring, usually on 4th or 5th April. In addition, these days are meant for the present generations to commemorate their ancestors, with many thronging temples and ancestors’ graves as a sign of respect.
Hungry Ghost Festival
The 7th month of the Lunar calendar marks this festival. Usually in August or September, the Chinese believe that the souls of the deceased are released to walk the realm of the living for entertainment and feasting. As such, opera performances and food offerings are very common during this month.
Mid-Autumn Festival (Lantern or Mooncake Festival)
This takes place from early September to early October meant to commemorate the end of the farming year and to celebrate an abundant harvest. The making and eating of mooncakes (a sweet lotus delicacy) signifies unity and a complete cycle.
Dragon Boat Festival
Held in May or June, this festival commemorates the death of a Chinese saint in ancient China who drowned himself in protest against government corruption. In Singapore, dragon boat (specially crafted) races are held across Marina Bay.
In April or May, Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Caged birds signifying captive souls are set free. Charities donate gifts to needy people and homes regardless of race or religion. Buddhist youths also volunteer for mass blood donation drives at hospitals. Finally, thousands of devotees participate in a mass candlelight procession, chanting sutras (holy verses) and pay homage to Buddha.
This event’s time varies each year. In essence, it is a time of fasting for all Muslims (no eating and drinking from dawn till dusk). During this period, evening food stalls are set up at Arab Street, near the Sultan Mosque. Evenings are times for worship and contemplation, meant for communities and families to strengthen ties.
Hari Raya Puasa
This festival marks the end of the Ramadan month. Celebrated by Muslim families with a large feast. Hari Raya Puasa signifies openness of the heart and mind, where in Singapore, this includes Muslim families inviting non-Muslim friends to join in the festivities.
Hari Raya Haji
Meant for prayer and remembrance, Hari Raya Haji marks the annual climax of pilgrimage rites performed in Mecca, the Muslim holy land.
Held in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February), Hindu devotees honour Lord Subramaniam by piercing their bodies with needles. There is then a procession march from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple on Tank Road. Devotees carry Kavadis (metal structures adorned with feathers, effigies and milk containers) on their shoulders too.
Between October and November, fire-walking ceremonies are held at Sri Mariamman temple. Led by a priest, devotees march the same route as in Thaipusam to Sri Mariamman temple, where after the priest has walked across a bed of burning coal, the devotees follow one by one. This ceremony is watched by thousands of people assembled at the temple.
Deepavali (Festival of Lights)
Celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs in the same month as Thimithi. Essentially, this festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. Numerous oil lamps are lit to guide the souls of deceased relatives to the afterlife.
On 25th December, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. During this period, many streets, including Orchard Road, are lit and decorated magnificently. These decorative lights go up from November till early January.
Either in March of April according to the Christian calendar, this marks the death of Jesus Christ.
Easter commemorates the day Christ is resurrected. Falls in March or April.
Other Public Holidays and Celebrations
New Year’s Day – 1 January
Labour Day – 1 May
National Day – 9 August
This is to celebrate the nation’s birthday, or the date Singapore became independent way back in 1965. A large parade is a given, to honour the patriotism of Singaporeans. Awards are also given out to recognise the service and contributions of individuals and companies to Singapore.