Culture in Singapore: Calendar of events
Wednesday 8, December 2010
Singapore is a place in no small part famed for its vibrant and colorful festivals.
Various celebrations are deeply ingrained in the Singaporean way of life and whilst it wouldn’t be possible to squeeze them all into this one piece we’ll do our best to showcase some of those particularly appealing to visitors. If something catches your eye then be sure to lookup precise dates which can vary somewhat year to year.
The major festivals in Singapore are often most reflected in the ethnic quarters and temples of Geylang, Little India and Chinatown. These locations have a tendency to come alive with lights while a carnival atmosphere invades the suburbs, town centers, and even the shopping malls.
Chinese New Year
We begin in January with Chinese New Year – an event arguably best celebrated here in Singapore thanks to the majority Chinese population and strong community spirit.
‘Gong Xi Fa Cai!’, Mandarin for “wishing you a prosperous year” echoes throughout Chinatown with the clash of cymbals and lion dances during the months of January and February. This festive period lasts for 15 days and marks the most important festival of the Chinese lunar calendar, the Lunar New Year. Terengganu and Pagoda Street open up their colourful stalls with New Year cookies, red paper decorations and gift packets. The whiff of incense permeates the air from the little altars you’ll see all around, as the Chinese make offerings to their gods.
It is customary to give the young and single “Hong bao”, small red money envelopes. Remember to slip some dollar notes in them and carry a couple of mandarin oranges when visiting someone during this period.
The lunar New Year also marks the time for many parades and festivities. The marina promenade opens up its fairgrounds to floats of mythical creatures, legendary heroes, Chinese gods, pagodas and cherry blossoms. The River Hong Bao fair features a mind-boggling variety of food, traditional arts and folklore from ancient China. Visiting performers, artisans and craftsmen perform nightly cultural performances, displaying their skills in everything from acrobatics to Chinese calligraphy. Not too far away at the civic district the Chingay Parade winds its way down from City Hall to Suntec City like a multinational party with its vibrant floats and performers from around the world. The parade is in celebration of the start of the New Year.
Dragon Boat Festival
Step forward to around June time and we enter the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. This is the day to enjoy rice dumplings wrapped in leaves and watch skilled oarsmen racing down the river in their colourful and ornate dragon boats. According to legend on this day Qu Yuan, a patriot of ancient China, threw himself into the Mi Luo River in protest against corruption and injustice. The fishermen heard of Qu Yuan's suicide and immediately set forth in their dragon boats to look for him. The legend also lends itself to the dumpling eating tradition where the fishermen threw rice into the river to prevent fish from devouring his body.
Whilst a somewhat gruesome tale, the Dragon Boat Festival is preserved to this day and is a great way to observe Singaporean culture in action. The traditional cuisine is well worth trying too.
Into the eighth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in September, and it’s time for the Mooncake Festival. Otherwise known as the Lantern or the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is held on the 15th day of the month when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. This festival has its share of romantic and intriguing legends as well and these give rise to the tradition of eating mooncakes. You can get mooncakes in many different flavors, from the traditional end of the spectrum all the way to new varieties like mocha.
On the night of the festival, children light up lanterns in all shapes and sizes in their homes. It’s the best time of the year to have an evening stroll along the Chinese gardens as it takes on a mystical aura with its hundreds of lanterns.
Finally, the Deepavali or the Festival of Lights is an important festival celebrated by the Hindus and usually falls during the months of October or November. The festival marks the triumph of light over darkness and true enough Little India transforms into a fairy land of lights while its many streets throb with stalls selling sweets, goodies, ethnic clothes, jewelry and much more. Campbell Lane opens itself as a festival village with its colourful stalls, loud music and strings of colourful lights. South and North Indian songs and dances are performed by a mixture of local and foreign artists on every day except Sunday to usher in the festival. These traditional acts are a sight to behold, as is the strong turnout and party atmosphere.
The festivals in Singapore, although many are centered on religion and age-old myths, are hugely colorful and joyful. The best way to enjoy them is to respect the traditions (which may be somewhat different to those to which you’re accustomed) whilst immersing yourself in the sights and sounds that encapsulate you.
That concludes our journey through some of the best festivals in Singapore - a small place which comes alive with character.
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