Festivals in Singapore

Information about Singapore's calendar of colourful, multicultural festivals, including the Festival of Lights (Deepavali), Chinese New Year celebrations and the Buddhist celebration of Vesak Day...

Because of the multicultural nature of Singapore society there is a wide range of festivals in Singapore.

Chinese Festivals

Chinese New Year (a 2-day public holiday in Singapore)

Chinese New Year generally falls in January or February, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the new year is welcomed with dragon dances and parades. Red pieces of paper with good wishes written on them are pasted on doors and walls. Chinatown has many markets around this time and is especially lively at night. This is the only time of year when many businesses close.

The main celebration involves a reunion dinner on the eve of the new year and visits to relatives and friends on the first two days. After the reunion dinner, parents and other relatives distribute hong bao (red packets containing an even amount of money, in new notes) to the family's unmarried children as a gesture of good fortune. In Singapore, although the public holiday is only two days the celebrations can last for half a month. The 15th day is the close of the festive season.

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.

Yu Lan Jie (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts)

Usually celebrated in August or September, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese believe that the souls of the dead are released for feasting and entertainment on earth. Chinese operas are performed for them and food is offered to the ghosts.

Mid-Autumn Festival (also the Mooncake or Lantern Festival)

A traditionally auspicious occasion for the Chinese community, the Mid-Autumn Festival takes place from early September to early October and celebrates the end of the farming year and an abundant harvest. The mooncakes signify unity and a cycle completed. This is a good opportunity for visitors to experience Singapore's unique blend of the best of the modern world and rich cultures. In Singapore, lantern competitions are held and the winning lanterns exhibited in the Chinese Garden.

Dragon Boat Festival

Held in May or June, the Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the death of a Chinese saint who drowned himself as a protest against government corruption. Celebrated with boat races in specially crafted dragon boats across Marina Bay.

Muslim Festivals

Ramadan

The time of this event changes every year. It is a time of fasting for Muslims; from dawn to dusk they eat and drink nothing. During Ramadan food stalls are set up in the evening in the Arab Street district, near the Sultan mosque. Geylang Serai, one of the theme villages in Singapore, featuring Malay culture is well worth a visit in the evening.

Hari Raya Puasa (a public holiday in Singapore)

A Muslim festival which marks the end of Ramadan which is celebrated by Muslims with a large family feast. The date changes annually. Hari Raya Puasa signifies "openness" of both mind and heart, and in multi-racial Singapore this is often expressed by inviting non-Muslim friends to share the Hari Raya festivities.

Hari Raya Haji (a public holiday in Singapore )

A time of prayer and remembrance, Hari Raya Haji marks the climax of the annual pilgrimage rites performed in Mecca.

Muharram

The Islamic year begins with Muharram ul Haram, the first month of the Hijri Calendar. The first month of Islam teaches lessons of admonition, good counselling, knowledge of Allah Ta'ala, sacrifice, selflessness, patience and seeking the pleasure of Allah Ta'ala. Some Muslims fast during this period.

  • To find the dates of the Muharram festival: Click here

Buddhist Festivals

Vesak Day (a public holiday in Singapore)

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 symbolise the setting free of captive souls. Gifts are distributed by charitable organisations 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 theatre.

  • For a comprehensive description of the significance of Vesak Day: Click here

Hindu Festivals

Thaipusam

A Hindu celebration, popular with the Tamils, which has been banned in some countries. Held in October, when devotees honour 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

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.

Tamil New Year

The Tamil New Year begins in the month of Chithirai, between April and May. To herald the New Year, morning worship is held in temples in honour of Surya, the Sun God, the remover of all darkness and gloom. Some Hindus take a ritual bath early in the morning, and the day is spent visiting temples and relatives.

Deepavali (a public holiday in Singapore)

Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs. Like Thimithi, it is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi. Because of its ancient origins, the festival is enveloped in a variety of legends, the most common one being that it marks the slaying of an oppressive ruler named Narakasura by Lord Krishna, symbolising the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. Tiny oil lamps are lit to guide the souls of departed relatives to the next world. Children love Deepavali because of the many social visits and treats they are given.

Navarathiri

A religious festival involving nine nights of prayer, and worship of the Goddess Durga, signifying the triumph of good over evil. Married women pray for the well-being of their families, and community prayers are offered for the well-being of the nation.

Christian Celebrations

Christmas (a public holiday in Singapore)

Celebrated on 25 December to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. The entire stretch of the Orchard Road shopping belt is lit up with decorative lights from November to early January.

Good Friday (a public holiday in Singapore)

Falling in March or April according to the Christian calendar, this day commemorates the death of Jesus Christ.

Easter

Celebrated in March or April according to the Christian calendar to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other Celebrations

  • New Year's Day (a public holiday in Singapore): Celebrated on 1 January
  • Labour Day (a public holiday in Singapore): Celebrated on 1 May
  • National Day (a public holiday in Singapore): Celebrated on 9 August. A large parade is held to honour patriotism. Awards are given as a means of recognising various forms of merit and service to Singapore

Picture courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board