HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN SINGAPORE

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN SINGAPORE

Holidays of Chinese, Christians, Muslims and Hindus—aal of whom are represented in the Singaporean population— are all recognized and celebrated in Singapore. Ian Lloyd, a National Geographic photographer and long time visitor to Singapore, said, “Being adaptable and accepting extends festivals. As a nation Singapore celebrates the Hindu Festival of Lights, Deepavali, then Christian Christmas and Chinese News Year, with the Muslim month of Ramadan honored whenever it falls on the annual calendar. It always amazes me that I might see my overnight delivery man one day in his trendy uniform, and the next, he might have needles piercing his body for the Hindu Thaipusam festival, as a way of thanking a diety for granting his prayers.”

Halloween is making inroads into Singapore. Clubs host thing like the Abominable Giant Man Eating Zombie Tea Party.

National Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1); Lunar New Year (movable date in January or February); Hari Raya Haji (Feast of the Sacrifice, movable date in February); Good Friday (movable date in March or April); Labour Day (May 1); Vesak Day (June 2); National Day or Independence Day (August 9); Deepavali (movable date in November); Hari Raya Puasa (end of Ramadan, movable date according to the Islamic lunar calendar); and Christmas (December 25).

Chinese New Year in Singapore

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival, is one of the most eagerly anticipated occasions each year. This is the biggest and most significant event of the Chinese community, and it is observed by Singaporeans from all walks of life. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th day. Firecrackers not surprising have been banned for several decades for safety reasons. In 2004 the government introduced a supervised firecracker display. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

Symbolically, new clothes are usually worn to signify the new year. It is also the tradition for every family to thoroughly clean their homes to “sweep away” any ill-fortune, making way for the arrival of good luck. Chinese New Year also brings people together, and is marked by visits to kin, relatives and friends, a practice known simply as "new-year visits". The highlight for children and younger members of the family during these visits comes in little red packets, or “hong bao”, filled with money. Another significant tradition is the Reunion Dinner, which takes place on the Eve of Chinese New Year, and is an occasion for families to come together and eat.

During this time, the streets of the city come alive with the sounds of traditional music, the sights of hanging red lanterns and the tantalising smells wafting from the many night stalls set-up in various neighbourhoods throughout Singapore. One such precinct is Chinatown, which, with its stunning street light-ups, night markets and decorations, is the focal point for Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. The best time to absorb the lively atmosphere that Chinatown has to offer is during the Chinatown Street Light Up. This is when lion dancers, fire eaters and female dance troupes grace Kreta Ayer Square with their mesmerising performances. Armed with giant paper fans and intricately patterned umbrellas, they will provide you with street entertainment that you are unlikely to forget.

Tash Aw wrote in the New York Times, “Festooned with red lanterns and banners bearing auspicious messages, the ornate façade of the 19th-century Thian Hock Keng temple in downtown Singapore seems even more flamboyant than usual. The temple is readying itself for its busiest time of the year: Over the next few weeks thousands of worshipers will make offerings and pray for a favorable Chinese New Year. It’s a time when even the least conscientious of temple-goers, like me, make an effort to maintain the customs that link them to their heritage. [Source: Tash Aw, New York Times, February 12, 2015]

Folklore is very much at the heart of this festival. All across the city, you’ll notice dragon and lion dances everywhere – lending a cheery, festive atmosphere to the occasion. Dragons and lions are prominent characters in Chinese mythology; its roots originating in ancient China when Nien, a mythical beast which tormented villagers was discovered to be afraid of the colour red.

The Chinese in Singapore believe that the lion brings forth good fortune. Legend has it that a monstrous creature, the Nien, would destroy the fields, crops and animal of farmers each year on the eve of Chinese New Year. To put an end to the animal’s ravaging, the villagers put together a fearsome model of an animal using bamboo and paper, and manipulated it like a puppet to scare off the ferocious Nien, along with the loud and persistent banging of drums. Their ingenious plan was followed with success and henceforth, the lion dance was performed annually to celebrate it.The best time and place to witness lion dance performances is on the eve of Chinese New Year in Chinatown, where you can also enjoy the Chinatown Street Light Up at the same time.

Singapore bursts with all sorts of activities and events during Chinese New Year each year. The centrepiece of the festivities is the Chingay Parade, a grand carnival-like street parade with dazzling floats, thrilling spectacles like fire-eaters, magicians and sizzling dance acts. However, to accommodate more spectators, it is held on the expansive grounds of the Formula One Pit Building alongside the Marina waterfront. Another popular annual Chinese New Year event is the River Hongbao. Held on the Marina Bay Floating Platform and the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade in mid-February, the vicinity comes alive with the throbbing beat of lively street performances, shopping and games stalls, lanterns and fireworks – a crowd favourite during Chinese New Year. Nearby at the Esplanade, the annual Huayi Festival, which also happens in February, showcases traditional and contemporary Chinese arts in a variety of genres like theatre, opera and music, and includes visual installations by renowned Chinese artists from all over the world.

Singapore’s New Year Chingay Parade

The Chingay Parade is a traditional Chinese New Year procession that has grown in recent years to become a massive street parade, boasting a stunning array of dancers, street floats, jugglers, percussionists, lion and dragon dancers, clowns and acrobats, among others. The parade has its origins in China, where processions of a similar ilk were held for two weeks after the Lunar New Year to welcome the season of spring. The name “Chingay” was coined from its Hokkien dialect equivalent, meaning “the art of costume and masquerade”, and is a longstanding tradition dating back to 1973, when the first parade was organised. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

In the 1990s, the parade became an evening-to-night event, complete with an impressive display of lights and other pyrotechnics. People from all walks of life participate in the Chingay, as long as they have something to celebrate and share. Over the years, the route for the parade has covered most of the central areas of Singapore like Outram Park, Orchard Road, Chinatown and City Hall.

During Chinese New Year, head down to the Formula One Pit Building at the Marina Waterfront for the Chingay Parade. Recently moved from Orchard Road to this stadium-like venue to accommodate more spectators, you’ll get your fill of international and local acts on mobile floats to other varied forms of street gaiety. Join in as Singaporeans and visitors alike party up and down the streets during the festival as a symbolic gesture of their anticipation of the Spring bloom. Various lion and dragon dances are also held during this time – with acts such as Singapore’s People’s Association Firecracker Dragons Dance, a magnificent and awe-inspiring combination of dance and pyrotechnic acts, where valiant performers weave through acrobatically under bright red burning sparklers.

In recent years, the festival has evolved with Asian and global influences, with approximately 2,000 performers from various clubs, schools and institutions gyrating to Samba music – and has given the parade a growing reputation as the Mardi Gras of the East – in a myriad of glittering, colourful costumes. Since 2000, exotic groups from various countries like Ghana, Brazil and Slovenia have also made their debut in the parade, enthralling tourists and Singaporeans, reflecting a true cosmopolitan society.

Chinese New Year Traditions Dying in Singapore

Around the time of Chinese New Year 2008, Melissa Chia of Reuters wrote: “Golden rat figurines and tasseled red lanterns are crammed into shophouse windows, and pre-recorded soundtracks of firecrackers echo off the walls. Singapore's Chinatown presents the perfect image of a city in the grip of festivities for the Chinese lunar Year of the Rat. But duck into a back street travel agent and a different picture emerges. "I don't care for the traditions and won't be visiting my relatives. I only see them once a year during Chinese New Year -- where's the connection there?" said one 25-year old student, who declined to be named and was bound for Hong Kong. "It's a drag to visit people whom I hardly see in the year. I'd rather spend time with people I'm closer to. Some youngsters are just going visiting to receive the ang pao," he said, referring to the red paper envelopes of money given by relatives. Travel agent after travel agent confirms the trend. [Source: Melissa Chia, Reuters, January 30, 2008 +~+]

“Among the "endangered" traditions some fear are fading fast are the tuan yuan fan reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year, which falls on February 7 this year, going to bai nian, or to visit senior relations, and the presentation of ang paos, red packets plump with money, to the younger generation. In what some interpret as evidence of the "westernization" of younger generations, research from the National University of Singapore (NUS) confirms young people are less likely to celebrate Chinese festivals than older people. "The singles are very afraid that their older relatives will pressure them to get married soon, so to avoid the nagging they go away," joked Lucy Lai, a 50-something manager at Nam Ho Travel agency, when asked about the holiday exodus. +~+

“Escapees like Zhang Weixiong, a 25-year old operations officer at a shipping company, say they relish the freedom of choosing which relatives to visit, a decision previously made for them by their parents. "In the early years it was more of a formality thing, until the later years when it was more of my choice whether or not to go," Zhang said. "I don't want it to be that just because it's Chinese New Year I am forced to visit you, even though I don't see you throughout the whole year," he said. +~+

“Not all are as understanding of the "new" Lunar New Year. Young Singaporeans risk becoming culturally bankrupt, as they do not make the effort to understand or follow their traditions, said security officer Edward Chua, 52. "Some of them who are married even have the audacity to say they can save giving ang pao.” +~+

Many Singaporeans Would Rather Travel See Relatives During Chinese New Year

Melissa Chia of Reuters wrote: “Rather than spending New Year at home with extended families in what is traditionally the year's one guaranteed family reunion, Chinese Singaporeans, some 77 percent of the population, are fleeing their New Year in droves. Opting out of cultural rituals to instead travel to hotspots such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan is the Year of the Rat's hot ticket trend, despite seasonal price hikes. "Last year they booked at the last minute, but this year all the tickets had been sold by January, so there is nothing else to sell now," said Steven Chan, manager at Giamso International Tours, one of dozens of Chinatown travel agencies. [Source: Melissa Chia, Reuters, January 30, 2008 +~+]

“Experts say the trend of abandoning traditional wider family obligations for short breaks overseas has accelerated as the economy booms and as Asia's budget airline networks encourage soaring leisure travel. Not all observers see this manifestation of the city's gaping generation gap as a problem. "There is a social change going on, where people are going closer to their friends rather than their relatives and I'm not sure that that is negative. It can be positive," said Dr Daniel Goh, 34, Assistant Professor of Sociology in NUS. +~+

"Chinese New Year is a time when your most valuable relationships are activated again, and this is what is happening," he said. But left-behind older generations faced with empty places at the dinner table find it hard to see the upside. "Once the figurehead and the old folks are gone, fewer young people come to visit because it no longer matters to them," said Doris Liang, a concerned aunt in her 50s, who worries her family's best celebrations are in the past. +~+

“In a bid to attract AWOL youngsters to the annual Chingay street parade of stilt walkers, jugglers, and lion dancers, officials have organized the island's first post-celebration street party, CITY JAM 2008! A dance arena will be created "for youths to have a taste of partying in the heart of the CITY right after the fanfare," said the organizers, who hope to draw 5000 revelers. +~+

Deepavali in Singapore

Deepavali, which literally means “row of lights,” is celebrated by Hindus across the world and is the most important festival in Hinduism. In Singapore, the Festival of Lights, as it’s endearingly called, falls in the last quarter of the year and is a public holiday. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

Deepavali is the celebration of good over evil, and light overcoming darkness. While there are various legends that inspire this festival, the common tale is about how Narakasura won the favor of God and was blessed with the rule of a kingdom. He ruled his kingdom with tyranny, which led his subjects to appeal to Lord Sri Krishna, the divine ruler of Madura, for help. Narakasura was subsequently killed by Lord Krishna in battle and on Lord Krishna’s return, the city was in complete darkness as it was the night of a new moon. To celebrate his victory and to welcome Lord Krishna, the people lit lamps, and to this day, Hindus mark the victory of Lord Krishna over King Narakasura by lighting oil lamps.

New clothes are worn during Deepavali and sweets and snacks are shared. Some Indian communities also begin the financial year on Deepavali for auspicious reasons. A traditional way to celebrate Deepavali in Singapore is to have your hands painted with henna art. Henna is a flowering plant used to dye skin, hair, fingernails and even leather and wool. These temporary tattoos are often done for free by local artists.

During Deepavali, the streets of Little India are artfully decorated and lit up in bright festive colours, transforming it with an explosion of vibrant, colourful arches and lights. Festive bazaars and numerous cultural activities such as the Indian Heritage and Craft Exhibition, Street Parade, Countdown Concert are also held. The festive stalls are decorated with wares such as fragrant flowers, garlands used during prayers, traditional oil lamps and beautiful Saris with intricate brocade patterns and glittering gems. Colourful Indian outfits, intricate costume jewellery and traditional arts and craft are also on sale. Indian delicacies can also be found in abundance during this period.

If you want to bask in the richness of the Indian culture, sit by any of the coffee shops along Little India and order a teh tarik (frothy milk tea). Watch as the crowds fill the streets and the stalls bustle with business. Come see this historically rich enclave transform into the heart of Deepavali.

Vesak Day in Singapore

Vesak Day is the most significant day of the year in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated by Buddhists the world over. The day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha and is a day of immense joy, peace and reflection. In Singapore, Vesak Day usually falls in the month of May, on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

On this day, devout Buddhists and followers alike congregate at their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, where the Buddhist flag will be hoisted, and hymns sung in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees often bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their spiritual teacher. These symbolic offerings remind followers that life too, is subject to decay and destruction when the offering burns out or wilts away.

Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit many times over. Buddhist youth sometimes organise mass blood donations at hospitals, while general rites and rituals practiced on Vesak Day include chanting of mantras; releasing of caged birds and animals; having vegetarian meals; and "bathing" a Buddha statue, a reference to the legend of the child Buddha being showered with the waters of nine dragons soon after birth. These acts of generosity observed by the Buddhist temples are also known as Dana.

Most statues of the Lord Buddha are illuminated on Vesak Day, and the celebrations conclude with a candlelight procession through the streets. The Buddhist community in Singapore is made up of various sectors, each of them offering variant ways of celebrating the occasion – The Mahayana or "Greater Way" constitutes mainly Chinese Singaporeans and form the majority of Buddhists here, while the Mahayana strain of Buddhism arrived on these shores in 1884 through individual missionaries from China's southern province.

The central pillar of Mahayana Buddhism is that Nirvana can be obtained not just through self-perseverance but also through the help of bodhisattvas or "enlightened ones". One such bodhisattva highly regarded in Singapore is Guanyin, the "Goddess of Mercy". Mahayana Buddhist temples in Singapore like the Phor Kark See Temple on Bright Hill Road, practise the "three-step, one-bow" ritual on Vesak Day, where devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance. The exhausting two-hour procession actually begins 24 hours before, when many would reserve a place in the procession, sometimes with only a small tissue packet.

Meanwhile another main variant of Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism, with a focus on seeking one's own path to salvation. Mainly practised by Singapore's Sri Lankan and Burmese communities, the Burmese Buddhist Temple at Geylang and the Sri Lankaramaya Temple at St Michael's Road practise a ritual of cooking a pot of rice in milk on Vesak Day, reminiscent of Buddha's last meal before his long fast toward enlightenment.

A great place to observe and mark this holy day in Singapore is at the majestic Lian Shan Shuang Lin Temple which literally translates to the Twin Grove of the Lotus Mountain Buddhist Temple. Built between the years of 1902 to 1908, it is Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temple and the second largest in Asia. You can also soak in the spirit of the Vesak Day celebrations at The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a four-storey spiritual centre in the heart of Chinatown. It is architecturally inspired by the harmonious combination of the Buddhist mandala and the art culture of Buddhism in the Tang dynasty.

Pongal in Singapore

The Pongal Festival, or Sankaranthi, was originally held in celebration of a good harvest in South India, where farming is the main form of livelihood. Here in Singapore, the Pongal Festival welcomes the beginning of the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls in mid-January each year. It is celebrated in the form of a thanksgiving and usually lasts four days. Pongal literally means to boil over and hence the pot of rice is allowed to boil over as a sign of prosperity. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

The first day of Pongal, called Bhogi Pongal, is spent spring cleaning and discarding old belongings to welcome a new beginning. On the second day, Pongal is celebrated. Hindu homes start the day with the preparation of pongal (sweet sticky rice where milk, rice and sugar are boiled together) cooked in a new pot that is presented as an offering to the Gods in return for their blessings. On this same day, house visits are made and greetings are exchanged. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is dedicated towards honouring the cattle, for ploughing the fields and for the milk they provide. On this day the cattle are bathed, their horns painted and multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells and flower garlands are tied around their necks. The fourth day, Kaanum Pongal, is for younger members of the family to pay respect to their elders.

On these days, Pongal rice is also prepared at all Hindu temples and special prayers are conducted. In Little India, visitors can witness certain significant rituals and customs such as the honouring of the cattle and the Mass Pongal, which consists of a cooking competition among 20 families as part of a nine-day Pongal Festival. During this joyous festival, Campbell Lane, in front of Serangoon Rood, is usually transformed into a pedestrian-only mini village. You can browse the myriad of stalls and get your hands on unique souvenirs. Culture vultures can also experience the daily Pongal themed cultural performances taking place.

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

Most cultures have harvest festivals, and the Chinese are no exception. Based on Chinese legend and traditions brought to Singapore by our ancestors, the Mid-Autumn Festival is now celebrated yearly in August or September, to commemorate the selfless act of Chang' e, the wife of a merciless ruler. Many centuries ago, she drank the elixir of immortality to put an end to her husband’s evil deeds. The Mid-Autumn Festival is also fondly known as the Lantern or Mooncake Festival because of the festivities that surround the occasion. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated among both the mainland and the Chinese diaspora. Traditionally, it is an occasion spent with family members, similar to Thanksgiving. Observe and capture the timeless fond traditions surrounding the festival by heading to Chinatown, the vibrant hub of the Chinese community, to soak in the convivial mood. Make sure you are armed with a camera, and indulge in a little snap happy clicking of your own. The beautiful giant lantern displays, mini-stalls selling paper lanterns in various shapes and sizes and striking variations of the traditional mooncake delicacy will make great subjects for photography and add colour to your travels. For the culinary adventurous and budding gourmands, sample scrumptious mooncakes (a rectangular box or circle shape thick pastry dough filled with yummy ingredients) in traditional flavours like lotus and egg yolk or exotic varieties like durian, chocolate, coffee and ice-cream.

Set aside some time to watch performing arts troupes depict scenes from the tale of the elusive Chang E in the form of traditional dances, opera or puppetry shows for the ultimate Mid-Autumn festival experience.

Dragon Boat Racing Festival in Singapore

Singapore’s Dragon Boat Racing Festival is held at Bedok Reservoir, a quick 20-minute taxi ride east from the city. Dragon-boating crews from all corners of the world compete for honours in this prestigious competition. Dragon boat teams consist of 22 able-bodied members who furiously pit their rowing skills against one another in search for the ultimate glory. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

It‘s a sport that has its roots in ancient China, and like numerous ancient Asian sports, dragon boat racing also has a rich and mystifying heritage. Its origins begin with the death of the great poet Qu Yuan, who lived in the Chinese kingdom of Chu. An incorruptible Minister of State, Qu Yuan apparently became so upset with the acts of corruption within his government that he threw himself into the Mei Lo River in despair.

The rowing action of the dragon-boaters thus symbolise the desperate attempts of the village fishermen at beating their oars on the water to drive away man-eating fish as they tried to rescue him. While the fishermen were not able to save Qu Yuan, the tradition of throwing cooked rice dumplings (also known as ”ba chang”) wrapped in silk or banana leaves to appease the spirits of the river continues in today’s festival activities.

Today, dragon boat racing is a more cheerful spectacle. Show your support and cheer as the beautifully decorated boats splash and race across the surface of the water, and witness a whole range of ancient rites that are still performed here, including the showering of the dragon head of the boat before each race.

Dragon Boat Racing is a must for all sports fans, as it is a competitive, vigorous sport with lots of action, thrills and spills; and is just as ideal for great day full of wholesome family fun and entertainment. What’s more, dragon boat racing, with its fearsome drumbeats, mesmerising chants and intense camaraderie is also a joy to watch and savour.

The Kallang River just outside the Central Business District is another venue where you can take in dragon boat racing. Here, various dragon boat racing clubs have practices and competitive sessions during the weekends, and it’s a perfect place if you want to give the sport a go and get some hands-on practice

Punctured Bodies at Thaipusam in Singapore

Thaipusam is a highly symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil community. It is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls in mid-January each year. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

In Singapore, the Thaipusam ceremony starts in the early hours of the morning where devotees fulfill their vows with a 4.5 km walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road. The first batches of devotees usually carry milk pots and wooden Kavadis. A Kavadi consists of two semicircular pieces of wood or steel which are attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of a devotee. It is often decorated with flowers, palm leaves and peacock feathers. The milk they have been carrying is then offered to Lord Subrahmanya at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. Some devotees also pierce their tongues with skewers and carry a garlanded wooden arch across their shoulders. Devotees carrying spiked Kavadis, which require elaborate preparations, leave the temple in the later part of the morning and continue till night. The festival is not just an exclusively Indian affair; several Chinese devotees and people of other races also come to fulfill their vows on this day.

The festival is a visual spectacle and it often brings traffic in the city centre to a standstill, with a colourful procession full of chanting and dizzying rhythms of Indian drums. In preparation for carrying a Kavadi, a devotee has to prepare himself spiritually. For a period of about a month, the devotee must live a life of abstinence whilst maintaining a strict vegetarian diet. It is believed that only when the mind is free of material wants and the body free from physical pleasures that a devotee can undertake the sacred task without feeling any pain. The devotees are normally accompanied by friends and family members who cheer and offer support, usually in the form of prayers and chants. Witness the sacred ritual of Thaipusam when in Singapore, a true act of faith.

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore

Every year, usually in the month of August, the Chinese in Singapore observe a large-scale tradition of paying respects to the dead. Taoist Chinese believe that during this month, the “Gates of Hell” are opened and souls of the dead are freed and allowed to roam the earth. Evil spirits are placated during the Hungry Ghost festival with prayers and by the burning of fake money.

The best places to watch how the traditional rites are practised in Singapore are in the soul of the heartlands, where fellow believers congregate to burn incense sticks and present their offerings in the form of prayer, fruit such as Mandarin oranges, food such as roasted suckling pig, bowls of rice and occasionally a local Chinese cake made especially for the occasion. It is not uncommon to see various forms of tentage set up in open fields during this period, for the Chinese also believe in entertaining the spirits with boisterous live wayang and getai performances not only depicting tales of the divine gods and goddesses, but also bawdy stand-up comedy with a local twang, song and dance numbers in the various Chinese dialects and even sensually acrobatic pole dancing by felinely lithe spandex clad dancers. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

Everyone is welcome to watch the show as long as you don’t sit at the front row, which is reserved for the “special guests”. The festival is so widely-practised here that special joss paper bins have been set up for believers to burn their paper money in, believed to translate into great fortune in the afterlife. Small altars can also be seen outside many homes, both on private property and in public housing areas. From grand feasts costing thousands of dollars to a mélange of puppetry, opera and singing performances, the various ways with which the Chinese appease these roaming spirits is fascinating to watch, these festivities usually take place across the various neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Redhill and Geylang — so check these out if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to lose yourself in a truly local experience.

Double Hungry Ghost Festival in 2006 in Singapore

In mid summer 2006, Reuters reported: “It's the time of the year many Chinese businesses dread -- the hungry ghost festival, when families avoid moving house, couples postpone their wedding plans and tourists shy away from beach resorts. But businesses may be hit by a double whammy this year due to an oddity in the Chinese lunar calendar that results in two "seventh" months -- also known as the hungry ghost festival or Mid-Summer Ghost Festival when the gates of hell open and the dead walk among the living. [Source: Reuters, August 5, 2006 \*/]

“But it's not all gloom for Chinese during these two months. For some Singapore gamblers, this is a rare opportunity to hunt for lucky numbers to play the "4-Digits" (4D) lottery. "People will often use this chance to ask ghosts for lottery numbers," said Lee Inn Peng, a Taoist medium who has been practicing for 21 years. "These people are desperate, and will try anything. Sometimes they are at the graveyards with talismans, burning offerings asking for numbers." In Singapore, where 75 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese, business associations often run street performances, known as "getai," to entertain the living and the dead. Traditional female Getai performers will dress in more conservative outfits and costumes while the younger may tend to wear more revealing outfits and sexy costumes like those found here. \*/

“Apart from inviting popular singers from overseas to perform, these "getai" shows also include auctions for auspicious items such as oranges, pineapples and charcoal -- which are associated with wealth in Chinese, and which are stacked on gold-tinted plates and elaborately wrapped in red ribbons. "Some people will bid up to S$10,000 ($6,300) for these items because they believe it will bring them good luck," said Aaron Tan, who runs a company that organizes street performances. Low said these items are usually packed with a slip of paper with several sets of four numbers, so that winners of the bid can use those numbers to bet in the 4D lottery. "There are people who have struck lottery on these numbers and believe it is time to pay back the spirits who have helped them, so they don't mind paying a high price at the auctions," Low said. \*/

Christmas in Singapore

Christmas is regarded as time for merchants to make money. The streets are lit with light displays from early November to late January, when the largely Chinese population begin celebrating Chinese New Year. The light displays are particularly elaborate around Orchard Road, where some shopping malls use special machines to coat palm trees with soapsuds snow. Christmas trees, angels and decorations are up to four stories high, Cyber Santas answer e-mails from children. Explaining why such a fuss is made about Christmas one retailer told AP, “It’s the only time of the year when a lot of people can really make money. About 40 percent of our retail sales are during November and December.”

Christians make up about 13 percent of the population. Ordinary Singaporeans that celebrate Christmas buy shoes and clothes for their kids as well as presents and paint their rooms and buy new curtains and sofa covers in preparation of guests coming over. Many families get a Christmas tree. Catholics put up nativity scenes. Poinsettias, Santa faces and holly wreaths are also popular. Christmas foods include pineapple tarts, candy canes, walnuts and a specialty rainbow and chocolate cake.

Many families have a Christmas feast with turkey, honey-baked ham, roast beef, home-made stewed pies and traditional Eurasian dishes such as “Curry Devil” (sausage, ham bones, roast pork, potatoes, carrots, cucumber, and cabbage and a spicy sauce) and Feng (a difficult-to-prepare dish made with diced lean pork).

Both Catholics and non-Catholics go to church during the night of Christmas Eve to attend midnight mass, often in their best clothes. It is the one time churches are packed. People enthusiastically sing Christmas songs. Church bells are rung. Just before 2:00am people return home or to their parent’s house for Christmas supper and gift opening and the lighting of candles and incense. Around 4:00am people return to their home and after a short sleep make their way back to their parents house for Christmas lunch. The afternoon is spent visiting friends.

Singaporean Government plays Cupid for Valentine's Day

Concerned about the country’s low birth rate, Singapore's government has used Valentine's Day as an opportunity to promote romance and marriage. AFP reported: “In a city where many singles say they are too busy making money to make love, the government plans to step up its official "Romancing Singapore" campaign on February 14, to encourage people to take up dating. The campaign, launched in 2002 and managed commercially by the private sector since 2005, has lined up a series of events throughout February and on Valentine's Day itself to try to reverse the falling birthrate. And a separate initiative sees the government directly funding efforts to promote romance. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 13, 2008 \+/]

“In 2006 it launched the S$1 million (US$704,000) Partner Connection Fund to support dating agencies that come up with what it called new "social interaction opportunities" for singles. "A lot of countries, they let nature take its course but in Singapore because of our work and lifestyle, we don't have a lot of time," said Andrew Chow, a manager with Romancing Singapore. "We are trying to educate the singles that dating is in fact a lifestyle. I think nowhere else in the world does things like Singapore." \+/

“Among the events Romancing Singapore has planned to give Cupid a helping hand is an evening date on Singapore Flyer, the world's tallest observation wheel at 42 storeys high. The Valentine's Day event, billed as "Love In A Capsule," is organised by Romancing Singapore and Clique Wise, another social networking outfit. From movie marathons, Friday night shopping sprees and treasure hunts, Romancing Singapore says it has tapped more than 5000 singles to participate in previous events. \+/

“Love comes at a price, though -- a date on the Singapore Flyer costs US$140, which includes a gourmet dinner at a spa resort. All 24 slots have been booked, said Chow. Violet Lim, co-founder of dating agency Lunch Actually, agreed Singapore's fast-paced lifestyle has made it hard for couples to connect. "We play the role of an introducer," she said. "A lot of people who join us, they are not exactly people who can't find dates on their own. I would say it's more due to their schedules."

A subsidiary of Lunch Actually, Eteract.com, received funding from the government's Partner Connection Fund for its online dating platform. The platform allows singles to get acquainted by chatting and even playing games in cyberspace, said Lim, adding the identities of participants have been verified. Among those joining the events is Joyce Tia. Tia, a group financial controller in her thirties, will join a dinner date organised by Ideas and Concepts dating agency on the eve of Valentine's Day. "I am looking for a long-term relationship so having the dating agency to provide me the background of the person is good," said Tia.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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