Episode 7: The Festivals in Singapore – Part 1

We all find ways to celebrate. Life’s too short not to. Each country and each culture has its unique ways of commemorating a special day or event. These cultural celebrations have always piqued my interest. They are meaningful, colorful, memorable. In this episode, I’ll give you some insights on the festivals we celebrate in the Singapore. Let’s get this party started!

SHOUT-OUT

This episode is dedicated to my dear friend Karen McDowell. A shout-to you, Karen! Karen is currently living in Switzerland, but for some years she lived in Singapore with her husband and kids. Karen, I know you miss the sights, sounds and celebrations here in Singapore – and we miss you too! You know the doors here are always open – so come on by and visit sometime, ok?

The Festivals in Singapore: Part 1

THAIPUSAM (January)

Thaipusam ritual - carrying pots of milk
Thaipusam ritual – carrying pots of milk
  • celebrated by our Indian friends
  • not a public holiday
  • largest Hindu religious festival
  • in honor of the Lord Murugan – Tamil god of war and victory
  • the festival is observed when the full moon passes by the brightest star called Pusam
  • rituals involve: carrying pots of milk and devotees having their body parts pierced while carrying the kavadi
  • You can see the route these devotees take from one temple to another: Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road
  • Read more about what a kavadi is
Devotee with Kavadi
Devotee with Kavadi

 

CHINESE NEW YEAR (January/February)

lion dance
Lion Dances – look out for them on Chinese New Year
  • celebrated by our Chinese friends for 15 days
  • falls on different dates according to the lunar calendar
  • a celebratory festival and one reuniting families
  • Chinese New Year treats you don’t want to miss: pineapple tarts, Chinese barbeque pork (bak kwa), mandarin oranges

A brief guide for visitors during Chinese New Year in Singapore:

  • catch the lion dances – just keep your ears peeled for the loud sounds of Chinese drums
  • don’t sweep out the luck: Chinese folks keep cleaning equipment (brooms, dust pans, brushes) out of sight on the eve of Chinese New Year. No sweeping or dusting on the New Year’s Day itself!
  • If invited to a host’s home during Chinese New Year, bring two mandarin oranges to offer your host as a sign of luck. Also, if they have kids, prepare a red envelope (hong bao) with some cash in it for them. Nothing much – just a token of luck.
  • Red is an auspicious color – a great color to wear during Chinese New Year. Stay away from black or grey (bad luck)
  • Insider tip: Many food stalls and shops are closed on the first two days of the Chinese New Year in Singapore. You won’t go hungry because Indian and Muslim food stalls stay open – but if you have a craving for Chinese food or groceries, stock up before the New Year!

Find out what your animal sign is according to the Chinese Zodiac here

Mandarin oranges and hong bao (red envelopes with money)
Mandarin oranges and hong bao (red envelopes with money)

 

CHINGAY PROCESSION (February)

Characters at a Chingay Procession
Characters at a Chingay Procession
  • a colorful multicultural street parade in Singapore
  • a public holiday on the first day of the Chinese New Year
  • live performance scheduled close to the end of the Chinese New Year
  • floats (and dignitaries on many of them), live performances, cultural dances, marching bands
  • Chingay: “the art of costume and masquerade”
  • currently held at the F1 Pit Building near the Marina Waterfront
  • Official Chingay (Singapore) website and ticketing information
Chingay: It's a party on the street!
Chingay: It’s a party on the street!

 

GOOD FRIDAY/EASTER (March/April)

The Saint Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore
The Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore
  • celebrated by Christians in Singapore
  • Good Friday marks the beginning of a 3-day Easter weekend. It is a public holiday
  • special services to commemorate the events of Christ’s death and resurrection
  • you’ll find many churches around Singapore, including Roman Catholic and Protestant churches
  • Visit the St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore to appreciate the architecture within

QING MING (or All Soul’s Day, or Tomb Sweeping Day)

Back in the day: Visiting ancestor graves on Qing Ming
Back in the day: Visiting ancestor graves on Qing Ming
  • a sober day of remembering past ancestors
  • observed by our Buddhist friends
  • this is not a public holiday
  • Buddhists used to visit the graves of their ancestors and tend to the graves
  • food, wine and fruits laid at tomb to honor the dead
  • relatives would clean the grave area by sweeping the tomb and removing weeds around
  • Wiki page on Qing Ming festival
  • Only very few cemeteries left in Singapore – more and more families opt for sea burial
  • Read about the origins and traditions of the Qing Ming festival

 STAY TUNED!

Episode 7 was Part 1 of a two-parter! Stay tuned for the Part 2 of the Festivals in Singapore. If you haven’t already subscribed to this podcast on iTunes, feel free to do so.