Hoping to become more familiar with Singapore’s vibrant ethnic cultures and traditions? Check out our full guide to the biggest cultural festivals and highlights around the island. (Psst….! Head here for even more celebrations and festivals around Asia, and over here for art and literary festivals in Singapore).
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.
When: 15 January
Overly squeamish folks might shy away from this Hindu festival. In Little India, along Serangoon Road and Tank Road, the large procession sees some 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.
When: 3 February
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). From 30 January to 19 March, Chinatown will also be bustling with folks buying traditional snacks, decorations and more. Celebrations not to be missed included the Chingay Parade and the 8th International Lion Dance Competition.
When: 19 February to 5 March
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.
When: 1 June
Dragon Boat Festival
Crowds munching on sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) will be streaming to this exciting event that originated in China over two thousand 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 will paddle furiously to the finish line in time with the intense beat of drums.
When: 20 June
Hari Raya Puasa
At the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Muslim families celebrate by wearing eye-catching new baju kurungs (tradititonal 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.
When: 17 July
As Singapore celebrates their 50th year of independence, the Float at Marina Bay will host the sensational National Day Parade with dazzling bursts of fireworks, amazing choreographed dance routines, floats and lots of cutting-edge surprises all through the night.
When: 9 August
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, cow and goats to symbolise Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice. The meat is then carved up and given out to family and friends of the person who offered the animal, with a third of it traditionally distributed to the needy.
When: 24 September
Mid-Autumn Festival (aka 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.
When: 27 September
Little India will be overflowing with vibrant lights, kaleidoscopic arches, busy bazaars and Indian delicacies during this “festival of lights”, which 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.
When: 10 November (date might change based on the Hindu Almanac)