Hoping to become more familiar with Singapore’s vibrant ethnic cultures and traditions? Check out our full guide to the biggest cultural festivals in Singapore, from Chinese New Year to Vesak Day – with dates and highlights.
Overly squeamish folks might shy away from this Hindu festival. In Little India, along Serangoon Road and Tank Road, the large procession sees brave devotees carry spiked kavadis (portable altars) that pierce through their torsos as a tribute to Lord Subramaniam, the protector. To prepare for such a gruelling feat, they pray and fast up to 48 days before. On the less extreme end, devotees can also be seen carrying simple wooden kavadis or pots of milk.
Next festival date: 25 January 2024
Chinese New Year
The Lunar New Year is the most important period on the Chinese calendar. To welcome the New Year, Chinese families banish bad luck by spring-cleaning, and welcome good fortune with red and gold decorations and brand new clothes. Throughout the 14 days of festivities, families visit friends and relatives to eat dinner (steamboat is a popular choice), exchange oranges for prosperity and give kids red packets (hong bao). Chinatown bustles with folks buying traditional snacks, decorations and more. Celebrations not to be missed included the Chingay Parade and the International Lion Dance Competition.
Next festival date: 10 February 2024
Traditional chanting, tranquil candlelight processions and offerings of joss sticks, flowers and candles all take place at shrines and temples during Vesak Day, as Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. During this day of self-reflection, many Buddhists also opt to do good deeds like giving out cash and food to the needy, or setting free caged birds.
Next festival date: 23 May 2024
Hari Raya Puasa
At the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Muslim families celebrate by wearing eye-catching new baju kurungs (traditional Malay clothing) and visiting their families for a huge home-cooked feast. Non-observers can visit the nightly bazaar at Geylang Serai, which runs throughout the fasting month. The countless stalls there sell all kinds of sweet and savoury snacks, ethnic clothes, jewellery and more.
Next festival dates: 9-10 April 2024
Dragon Boat Festival
You’ll see crowds munching on sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) at this exciting event, which originated in China over 2,000 years ago and now takes place in Chinese communities all over the globe. A festival of many names, it’s also known as Duanwu, Tuen Ng and Double Fifth Festival (falling on the fifth day of the fifth month). Head to Bedok Reservoir for the prestigious Dragon Boat Racing Festival, where competing teams paddle furiously to the finish line in time with the intense beat of drums.
Next festival date: 22 June 2024
Each August, Singapore celebrates its independence, and the Float at Marina Bay hosts a sensational National Day Parade. Expect dazzling bursts of fireworks, amazing choreographed dance routines, decorated floats and lots of cutting-edge surprises throughout the day and night.
Festival date: 9 August each year
Hari Raya Haji
This festival of sacrifice is celebrated exactly how it sounds. Following prayers from male volunteers at mosques around Singapore, worshippers sacrifice sheep, cows and goats to symbolise Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice. The meat is then carved up and given out to the family and friends of the person who offered the animal, with a third of it traditionally distributed to the needy.
Next festival date: 16 June 2024
Mid-Autumn Festival (Lantern Festival)
Celebrated on the day the moon is at its brightest, this light-hearted festival sees local Chinese families coming together in parks and gardens to feast on traditional mooncakes, pomelos and Chinese tea. For kids, the best part of this festival is playing with colourful lanterns – from traditional ones lit by wax candles to plastic or cellophane types in the shape of cartoon characters, animals and more. Chinatown’s streets also come alive with lion dances, dragon dances, night markets, traditional percussions and more.
Next festival date: 17 September 2024
Little India overflows with vibrant lights, kaleidoscopic arches, busy bazaars and Indian delicacies during Deepavali. Known as the “festival of lights”, Deepavali (or Diwali) commemorates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Join in the joyous atmosphere and take the chance to shop for intricately sewn saris, heady Ayurvedic massage oils and more.
Next festival date: 1 November 2024
This traditional Tamil harvest festival honours the Sun God Surya. During the four-day period, Little India stirs with ethnic dances and performances, a street-side mini village with cultural souvenirs, a mass cooking competition and a mesmerising festive light-up.
Next festival dates: 13-16 January 2025
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