Singapore's religious and ethnic diversity is reflected in the sheer number and variety of festivals and celebrations held during the year.
The major religious and ethnic events – and public holidays – are Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Hari Raya (which has two parts) and Deepavali. Cultural highlights include the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore International Film Festival and Singapore Food Festival, while National Day – the anniversary of the country's independence – is a big affair. The rich mixture of cultures in Singapore means that there's always a cultural event to celebrate, all through the year. These festivals are usually colourful events centred around religion, age-old myths and traditions or the family. During these times it's the ethnic quarters and temples of Geylang, Little India and Chinatown that come alive, but often a happy carnival atmosphere invades the suburbs, town centres, and even shopping malls, too.
Singapore Art Week, January
Highlights of the Singapore Art Week include Art Stage Singapore, the region’s flagship international art fair returning for its seventh edition. In this year the art fair focused on the importance of developing a cohesive Southeast Asian art market in Singapore, which saw in-depth discussions by global thought leaders and art luminaries. The fair also brought the best of Asian contemporary art to the forefront, with content that addressed the most hot button issues in world affairs today. The other must-see exhibition of Singapore Art Week was the Singapore Biennale (which happens biennially, only coinciding with Singapore Art Week on the latter’s alternate years), one of Southeast Asia’s most important contemporary art exhibition presented a constellation of artistic perspectives that provide unexpected ways of seeing the world and ourselves. This Year’s edition of the Singapore Biennale was titled An Atlas of Mirrors, and featured site-specific and never seen before contemporary artworks by more than 60 artists across Southeast Asia, and East and South Asia.
The celebration of visual arts continued throughout Singapore, featuring prolific local artist, Amanda Heng, held at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, in an exhibition titled We Are the World – These Are Our Stories which centred on history, memory, communication, and human relationships in urban spaces. Visitors also ventured beyond the galleries for an art walkabout with ARTWALK Little India. During this multidisciplinary festival, the Little India cultural precinct came alive with performances and art installations that celebrated its rich heritage. The immersive art experience went on late into the night at Art After Dark and Aliwal Urban Art Festival, held at the Gillman Barracks and Aliwal Arts Centre respectively. These two outdoor parties were a colourful fiesta filled with street art, live music and a plethora of delectable F&B offerings.
Pongal (Harvest Festival), January
Pongal is celebrated mostly in South India over four days, by farmers who give thanks to 'Surya', the Sun God and giver of life, for the blessings of a rich harvest. In Singapore, Pongal is celebrated on the commencement of the auspicious month of Thai. On the first day, 'Bhogi Pongal', celebrations begin with worship of Lord Indra, the Ruler of Clouds and Giver of Rains. Thorough spring-cleaning as well as the discarding of old belongings is carried out to signify a fresh start. Oil lamps are lit, new clothes are donned and colourful designs in rice flour are created on the floors of houses. On the second day, 'Surya Pongal', the Sun God is honoured. Every household cooks a pot of rice with milk to offer up to Surya at dawn. Pongal means to ‘overflow’, hence the pot of rice has to bubble over to symbolise prosperity and abundance. This is then served to members of the family as well as any visitors to the house. It is a very social period, as relatives and friends visit each other and exchange greetings.
The third day, called 'Mattu Pongal', is set aside to honour cattle – cows are sacred animals in the Hindu religion. To remember the work they do, like ploughing the fields and providing milk, the cattle are scrubbed and their horns painted. Multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells and flower garlands are placed around their necks and they are fed special snacks as a treat. The last day, called 'Kannum Pongal', is all about the community and strengthening ties. Younger members seek the blessing of the older members of their families. Landlords distribute clothes, food and money to their workers. Offerings are made at temples even as special prayers are conducted. Infused with the earthy rhythms of agrarian life, Pongal offers visitors a peek into a rich culture and a way of life that has been celebrated in Southern India for centuries.
St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Singapore, January
Kick start the new year with a bang at one of the hottest indie music festivals in the world — the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, right here in Singapore. A highlight on the Southeast Asian music festival calendar, this annual extravaganza is definitely not to be missed. Hipsters or not, put on your festival togs and ready yourself for up to 14 hours of terrific tunes, amazing food and eclectic vibes. Today, Laneway is held in seven cities across Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Singapore, but the festival has roots in a much simpler place. The first chapter of its story began in a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar located at a grubby back street in Melbourne called Caledonian Lane. The year was 2004, and the bar’s owner, Jerome Bozario, and his band booker friend Danny Rogers decided that it’d be fun to start up a series of weekly gigs that they called the Summer Series. A year later, when they decided to throw a first birthday bash for the bar, a bet with Melbournian band The Avalanche about whether they could get the lane closed off for the party sparked something much bigger: eight acts agreed to perform, 1,400 people showed up, and the aptly-named Laneway Festival was born.
Over the next few years, the festival experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise. It quickly cemented its reputation as the seminal indie music festival in the Asia-Pacific region, conquering one new city for each edition until it settled on its current tour lineup. The key to the festival’s success lies in the way the organisers capture the zeitgeist of current music trends while discovering emerging talents. Back in 2010, for instance, British groups Mumford & Sons, The xx and Florence and the Machine all made their Australia debut at Laneway – just as they were starting to gain global attention for their music. The festival also announced Lorde as part of its line-up just one week before the teenage sensation made it to the top of the US charts. So if you’re on the prowl for the next big thing in the music scene, well, Laneway’s the place to be.
The River Hongbao has been on Singapore’s festive calendar every year since 1987. Held at the Floating Platform @ Marina Bay, this iconic event has become an integral tradition of Singapore’s Lunar New Year celebrations for locals and tourists alike. This lively festival offers a special Chinese cultural experience – from giant lanterns to mouth-watering food – that is a feast for your senses. You will be astounded by the larger-than life lanterns depicting figures of Chinese myth and legend, handcrafted onsite by craftsmen from China. Crowd favourites include the God of Fortune, and of course, the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. A myriad of fringe activities, ranging from amusement rides to carnival games, will ensure that there is never a dull moment. Opera and other street performances round up this colourful extravaganza. Then take a breather amid the cacophony of sights and sounds. Treat your taste buds to a spread of exotic delicacies served at the largest outdoor Food Street in Singapore. Like fireworks? Then you’ll love the River Hongbao Opening Night and the Chinese New Year Eve Countdown Party – each has its own pyrotechnics display, welcoming the new year in bright, auspicious style.
Chinese New Year
Also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the most important event in the Chinese calendar. For 3 weeks prior to the start of Chinese New Year, you'll be able to soak in the festive mood throughout the island with celebrations in the form of colorful processions, seasonal markets, riotous lion dances and overlaying it all, the excited chatter and laughter of people meeting up, exchanging mandarin oranges for good luck and feasting on special dishes. Red is undoubtedly the colour of the season. You’ll see it in the scarlet paper packets filled with money that are given to children and younger relatives. You’ll see it in the bright hues of the brand new clothes people are wearing. Most of all, you’ll see it in homes all over Singapore, thoroughly spring-cleaned and decorated with touches of crimson everywhere – in the lanterns hung by the gates, in the spring couplets adorning doorways and in the bright ribbons adorning kumquat plants, their yellow fruit symbolising ‘gold’ or prosperity. The heart of Chinese New Year is ultimately a celebration of home and family, hence gatherings with family and relatives around the dining table are de rigueur. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the tradition of Reunion Dinner, held on the eve of the new year. Family members rush back home (sometimes from very far away) in order to share this one most important meal of the year with loved ones. The following days are then spent visiting relatives and friends, conveying blessings of good fortune for the year ahead and enjoying time with the ones who matter most.
Anchored by a large, colourful annual procession, Thaipusam sees Hindu devotees in Singapore seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. The festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil. The festival generally lasts for 2 days. On the eve, the chariot procession (with the Lord Murugan statue) begins from Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak Road. The Thaipusam ceremony starts in the early hours of the morning. The first batch of devotees carry milk pots and wooden kavadis. Some pierce their tongues with skewers and carry a wooden kavadi decorated with flowers and peacock feathers balanced on their shoulders. Other devotees carry spiked kavadis that require elaborate preparation.
Indeed, for devotees, Thaipusam is often the climax of an entire month spent in spiritual preparation with a strict vegetarian diet. It is believed that only when the mind is free of material worth and the body free from physical pleasures can a devotee undertake the sacred task without feeling any pain. Of course, not all who join the Thaipusam procession commit to such extremes – many 'kavadi' have no spikes and women often simply carry a pot of milk, an offering which symbolises abundance and fertility to the Hindus. You can witness the spectacle anywhere between Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road and Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road, as some lanes are closed to traffic for the occasion. Devotees will walk the 4.5 kilometres, along with relatives and friends who chant hymns and prayers to support and encourage them.
If a single event could capture the essence of Singapore’s unique multicultural personality, it would be the Chingay Parade – an annual marvel of dazzling floats, dancing dragons and stilt walkers. It may be held during the Chinese New Year festivities, but this wondrous event brings together people and performances from across the spectrum of Singaporean culture; celebrated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians alike. With all its noise and gaiety, the parade was mooted over four decades ago as a way to compensate for the ban that had been placed on firecrackers, a customary New Year practice to drive away evil spirits. Today, the Chingay Parade is the largest street performance and float parade in Asia – a shimmering celebration that makes its way across the heartland of this country.
Singapore Festival of Fun
The inaugural Singapore Festival of Fun! Taking place in Clarke Quay, the festival is spread over three hubs across the nine days—the Nickelodeon Fiesta, Street Fest, and Magner’s International Comedy Festival. Expect lots of games, live performances and fun for the whole family in Singapore’s hippest entertainment enclave this March. Bring the whole clan down to this two-day fiesta for kids and families. Pose for a photo with your favourite Nickelodeon characters and engage in some friendly competition at the fiesta carnival where you’ll get to play classic childhood games reimagined with Nickelodeon characters. You’ll also stand a chance to receive Nickelodeon goodies and collectibles from Nickelodeon Hunt, a themed treasure hunt around Clarke Quay, and participate in the many carnival games available. Admission to the Nickelodeon Fiesta is free. From a one-man-show involving a giant wearable balloon (Bruce Airhead) to performances by a world champion unicyclist (Jamey Mossengren and his 12-foot unicycle), there’s a plethora of surprising, spectacular shows in store for you at Street Fest. Marvel at stunning stilt-walkers, roaming clowns and acrobats, and street magicians at this six-day street festival that showcases 12 international performance acts from streets the world over.
World Gourmet Summit
The annual World Gourmet Summit is a fresh take on food festivals, with its focus on top-notch wining and dining. It is, after all, Southeast Asia’s premier haute cuisine festival, where you’ll enjoy back-to-back epicurean experiences, from vintner dinners to themed and celebrity meals. This is when you can step into some of the most celebrated restaurants in Singapore – the likes of Bacchanalia Singapore, Hua Ting Restaurant, Gattopardo Ristorante Di Mare, Majestic Restaurant and Tippling Club – for special menus as well as collaborations between Singaporean chefs and other culinary icons from around the world. Wine enthusiasts can opt for the specially designed wine tasting sessions, where you get to sample prized pours of winemakers from top wine-producing regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tuscany. Or try their best vintages at specially paired dinners hosted by visiting Master Chefs. Besides the feasting, serious foodies can also listen in on gastronomic talks with world-renowned Michelin-star chefs or pitch in at hands-on cooking workshops. So if you enjoy indulging in the finest wines and delectable world cuisines, mark the month of April in your travel itinerary for this delicious event.
Festivities for Vesak Day begin at the crack of dawn in Singapore, as devout Buddhists congregate at temples for a ceremony. This is when the Buddhist flag is hoisted, and hymns are sung in praise of the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his disciples). Offerings of flowers, candles and joss sticks are also brought to the temples. The fact that the candles and joss sticks burn down and the flowers wither through the day is meant to remind all worshippers that life is fleeting and transient, that all things decay and eventually pass away. The rest of the day is spent on worthy causes, as devotees believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit many times over. Only vegetarian meals are eaten even as Buddhists organise mass blood donations at hospitals, visit homes for the aged or distribute gifts of cash to the needy.
Others release caged birds and animals, a symbol of liberation for Buddhists, or spend hours chanting mantras. Statues of the Lord Buddha are illuminated, and the day often ends with candlelight processions through the streets. Head to Phor Kark See Temple on Bright Hill Road for a peek at one such procession. This is where you’ll see devotees practise the two-hour-long ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual, taking steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance. One of the most popular rituals you will notice on Vesak Day is that of ‘bathing’ the Buddha. Worshippers crowd around basins or pools decorated with garlands of flowers and dominated by a small central elevated statue of the child Siddhartha. Ladlefuls of water are scooped from the basin and poured over the statue, in remembrance of the legend that the infant prince was showered with the waters of nine dragons soon after he was born.
Foodies rejoice! Bring your friends, family, and most importantly, a big appetite with you on a culinary journey at one of the world’s best food festivals, Savour. Expect to enjoy a plethora of award-winning signature dishes by top restaurants from Singapore and the world over, all at one gastronomic extravaganza. In 2016, the festival grew to feature not just one, but three exciting culinary events at its new waterfront home at Marina Bay — Savour Gourmet, Savour Wines and Savour Christmas. The 2016 edition of Savour Gourmet saw a 22,000-square-foot Gourmet Market serving up over 50 signature dishes by award-winning restaurants, with exclusive dishes starting from as low as SGD 6. Savour Wines added on hundreds of wines from around the world to the Savour experience in the form of a Wine Market, while Savour Christmas saw top restaurants whipping up holiday dishes in a great Christmas feast.
The Savour food festival brings together renowned international chefs and our favourite local restauranteurs for an unmatched gastronomic experience. Big names that have made appearances at Savour include Australia’s Mark Best, Hong Kong Michelin maestro Alvin Leung and French chef Alain Passard. As for local culinary heroes, Bjorn Shen of Artichoke, Malcolm Lee of Candlenut, and Han Liguang of Labyrinth are among those who have showcased their culinary prowess at Savour. Savour also presents the Live Your Dream initiative, which aims to discover the next generation of master chefs in Singapore. The year-long competition involves home-grown culinary superstars showcasing their dishes at Savour, and sees these chefs battling it out through the semi-final rounds at the first two editions of Savour — Savour Gourmet and Savour Wines.
The competition then culminates in a grand final at Savour’s final instalment of the year, Savour Christmas. Sip on any wine of your choice at Savour Wines’ wine market (which brings in over 400 different wine labels — talk about being spoiled for choice), or snack on holiday treats such as London roast duck, Lavender ice cream, turkeys and hams at Savour Christmas’ Christmas Market, which also features a ‘live’ indoor Christmas tree for that extra festive pizzazz. Feasting’s not the only thing you can do at Savour. Budding kitchen maestros can get up close and personal with their favourite celebrity chefs when they attend hands-on masterclasses. The festival is a held at Bayfront Avenue, next to the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, with Savour Gourmet happening mid-year, followed by Savour Wines, and Savour Christmas wrapping up the year in the holiday season.
Dragon Boat Festival
It seems odd to think that the colourful Dragon Boat Festival has its roots in patriotism and politics. But one of the most enduring legends associated with this celebration tells the story of Qu Yuan, an incorruptible minister of state during the Warring States era of China. Once a trusted advisor, he was banished by his emperor due to political intrigue and in despair, threw himself into the river and ended his life. Because he was well-loved by the common folk, fishermen started to beat their oars against the water in a desperate attempt to stop the man-eating fish in the river from devouring his body. Others threw cooked rice wrapped in leaves into the water, in the hope that the fish would eat them instead. This resulted in today’s dragonboat races and the dumplings – two of the most distinctive aspects of the festival today. The stories have fused well with the tradition of Chinese fishermen using dragon-shaped boats to appease river ‘dragons’, which evolved into a sport during the Han dynasty.
Today, many features of the ancient races remain intact, from the long and narrow boat shapes to the prows painted with dragons’ heads to the drums which set the pace for the rowers. In Singapore, a festive atmosphere rules as participants pull furiously on their oars, leaders beat their drums, flags are waved and spectators cheer on their favourite teams. It is vigorous action, tragic history and thrilling camaraderie, blended into one compelling and exciting spectacle. A well-loved aspect of the festival, glutinous rice dumplings ('zhang' in Chinese) are triangular, wrapped in pandan leaves and have a wide variety of fillings. A popular version is 'bak zhang', stuffed with pork, water chestnuts and mushrooms, while the nonya (Peranakan) version bursts with braised pork, five spice powder and candied winter melon. 'Kee zhang' has no filling and is eaten as a sweet, dipped in sugar or 'gula melaka' (‘palm sugar’ in Malay) syrup.
You can’t say you’ve partied hard until you’ve been to an ULTRA Music Festival (UMF). Started in 1999, UMF has since grown to become an electronic dance music (EDM) behemoth, pushing the envelope with unparalleled production and stellar DJ-spinning credentials (think Tiesto, David Guetta and Martin Garrix). The Miami-born independent music fest has the widest reach in the world, spanning 19 countries - parties don’t get any bigger than this. The rave wave hit the shores of Singapore in 2020, when the folks behind UMF decided to suss out just how hot EDM was on this island. A single-stage indoor mini-event, ‘Road to ULTRA Singapore’, was thus born. And the ravers didn’t disappoint - ‘Road to ULTRA Singapore’ burnt out of its 11,000 tickets just 21 minutes into early bird sales, instantly paving the road for Singapore to go full-scale ULTRA.
Any heavier, they’ll break the stage. Boasting electronica’s biggest names like Skrillex, Alesso, Nicky Romero, Kygo, Afrojack, deadmau5, Nero and Far East Movement, the outdoor, two-day, three-stage event does not go gentle on introducing novice ears to EDM - get ready to be reeled in, lifted high and plunged low into the best of thumping beats and pulsing synths. Here’s the lowdown on the stages: ULTRA Main Stage: the place where all the action is. Camp it out here for electronic music’s biggest and baddest. Live Stage: take in the electrifying atmosphere with a diverse roster of live bands, pop and rock acts, and electro-pop names. Resistance Stage: for the diehards, these celebrated house and techno artists will bring the house down. Snag your tickets and pit your stamina against EDM’s reigning DJ legends.
The Great Singapore Sale
Stretch your dollar at the Great Singapore Sale, the big event for bargain-hunting locals and tourists alike. Known to Singaporeans as the GSS, this annual sale season is a true highlight for any shopaholic worth their salt. During the GSS, retailers here offer steep discounts, sometimes up to 70 per cent off their original prices. You’ll find great deals on just about everything, from fashion to jewellery, electronics to toys, even spa treatments, hotel stays, F&B and visits to local attractions for a total lifestyle experience. Over the years, the scale of the GSS has grown tremendously. The entire island is transformed into a shopping paradise, as even shops in the suburban areas join in.
Shopping destinations to keep an eye out for include the glitzy Orchard Road belt, with its stellar line-up of designer brands, fast fashion labels and massive malls. Don’t forget the smaller but no less exclusive shops in Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India. Those who like perusing through independent shops are certain to fall for Haji Lane in Kampong Glam precinct. Not to worry, you have enough time to hit the stores – the GSS runs for ten weeks. Besides maximising savings, the annual GSS include fun promotional activities such as lucky draws and instant rewards programmes.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is the festival of Eid, known in Singapore as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa. Ramadan is a period of sober repentance for Muslims, with approximately 30 days of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Adherents of the faith also devote much of the month to worship, charitable deeds and acts of compassion. Many Malay families in Singapore don new clothes in the same hue – men in loose shirts with trousers known as 'baju Melayu' and the women in 'baju kurung', a loose-fitting full-length blouse and skirt combination. The day begins with a trip to the mosque where special prayers are recited. Then it’s off to see the parents – Muslims traditionally ask for forgiveness from their elders for any wrongs committed during the year. More visits are made to see relatives and friends, where home-cooked feasts await.
If you're lucky enough to be invited to a Hari Raya meal, you'll find a wide variety of dishes on offer – beef 'rendang' (spicy beef stew), 'sayur lodeh' (vegetables cooked in coconut milk gravy) and 'sambal' (chilli paste) – along with fluffy white rice and 'ketupat' (rice cakes). The desserts are just as delicious, particularly the 'kueh' (cakes). Try the 'ondeh-ondeh', chewy balls with gooey palm sugar centres that explode in the mouth, or 'putu piring', steamed rice cakes with sweet grated coconut. One of the highlights of Hari Raya Aidilfitri must be seeing the women don their most beautiful 'baju kurung', sometimes accompanied by a matching headscarf 'tudung'). Often made of silk or hand-dyed batik, the vivid colours, lively patterns and delicate stitching along the baju's collar make these outfits a sight to behold. This traditional costume continues to be worn even today because it is comfortable and practical for Singapore's warm climates.
Singapore Food Festival
Singapore’s culinary scene has certainly come a long way. Today, you’ll find an astounding range of local street food and emerging dining concepts at various price points. Chicken Rice or Chilli Crab Pie? Fishball Noodles or Laksagne (that’s right, laksa flavoured lasagna)? Sit-down restaurant or pop-up café? Each edition of the Singapore Food Festival is a celebration of the diverse flavours and amazing talent of Singapore’s culinary past and future. Taste the Future’ of Singapore’s ever-colourful dining scene. At Streat, the Festival’s signature event, a stellar cast of hawkers and chefs served modern creations inspired by Singaporean flavours alongside sumptuous local favourites at great prices. Nostalgia was the order of the day at events such as The 50 Cents Fest! at Chinatown Food Street and Kueh Appreciation Day.
Foodies savoured rarely-seen classics such as Iceballs, Kok Kok Mee and Hainanese Larp, each with a story to tell about Singapore’s culture and past. The Festival also celebrated the innovative spirit of our culinary talents, with top chefs deftly re-imagining old classics and elevating traditional recipes. Street food favourites were paired with modern cocktails, and even infused with luxurious teas, to every gourmand’s delight. This year’s signature event, Streat, saw not one, but three renowned chefs collaborating to create a ‘6-Hands Dinner’ at a pop-up restaurant helmed by Tunglok Heen and Restaurant Labyrinth. Local dishes such as Satay, Chilli Crab, Bak Kut Teh and Laksa were given a unique, modern twist. Joining the stellar cast was a specially curated selection of Singapore’s finest chefs and hawkers, who served modern creations inspired by Singaporean flavours alongside sumptuous local favourites at great prices.
You know you are witnessing the lead-up to the country’s National Day when the island starts turning a particular shade of red and white – largely from the flags fluttering from buildings, houses and even cars. The Singapore story is well known – how it achieved independence in 1965 amid severe doubt it could survive at all with its tiny size and severe lack of natural resources. Yet the island succeeded against the odds, deftly navigating its way through stormy waters of domestic turmoil, regional strife and international politics. It made use of every single advantage it had, emerging on the world stage as a major commercial hub, financial centre and global player – in short, the little country that could. And in this way, the national narrative has been shaped over the years, a narrative that is retold in varying ways every year during the National Day Parade.
Audience members sit back to enjoy a stunning spectacle of military parades, multi-cultural song-and-dance performances and aerial high jinks capped by a breathtaking firework extravaganza set against the stunning cityscape framed by the Marina Waterfront. To celebrate the nation’s birthday parade will be held at the Padang where the first parade was held in 1966. With the lush displays, rousing songs and pulsating energy creating such an electric atmosphere, why, you’d almost think that you were Singaporean. Spectators at the show also get a ‘funpack’ – the National Day Parade version of a goodie bag. Large, lightweight and water-resistant, the design varies every year but will invariably be stuffed with all sorts of things, from snacks and drinks to bandannas and lightsticks. In recent years, the contents of these funpacks have been made as practical as possible, so that they can be used long after the party is over.
Singapore International Festival of Arts, August - September
For a whole month, Singapore celebrates the arts with a smorgasbord of theatre, dance and music performances. Organized and managed independently by the Arts House Limited, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) brings together the best of local and international artists in the form of quality works in theatre, dance and music, and aims to inspire diverse audiences through great artistic experiences. Acclaimed theatre director and Cultural Medallion recipient Ong Keng Sen takes the helm at the festival. His first edition of SIFA is themed ‘Legacy and the Expanded Classic’, which explores issues such as how legacies of the 20th century have left their mark on our future through the arts, as well as what ‘classic’ means in the 21st century. To understand these performances better, a public engagement initiative called The O.P.E.N. (Open, Participate, Enrich, Negotiate) was held earlier this year in a span of three months. There were public performances, film screenings, exhibitions and even brunch talks. Thereafter, a month later, SIFA will bring in a stellar selection of 13 productions spread over six weekends during the remaining of the festival, with established names like Robert Wilson, Michael Nyman, London Sinfonietta, and the Berliner Ensemble. New cutting edge award winning productions from Korea such as The Chorus; Oedipus, the US with Richard Move’s Martha@ . . . The 1963 Interview and Iranian Amid the Clouds will also be among the line-up.
Singapore Night Festival, August
For two weekends every August, the Singapore Night Festival (SNF) transforms the Bras Basah/Bugis heritage precinct into a midsummer’s celebration of sorts. Zero in on Armenian Street, which becomes a pedestrian-only area during the festival. This nocturnal extravaganza happens elsewhere around the city too, stretching all the way to Middle Road. Every year the SNF features a theme, and previous editions have showcased international acts such as the spellbinding ‘Gardens of Angels’ by Theater Tol, and the dazzling ‘Fuerzabruta’ by Ozono Producciones, where an aerial dancer sprinkles confetti while gyrating to live music. The signature highlight of the festival surely must be the interactive light installations that turn the facades of the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore into ephemeral works of wonder. Night owls will enjoy the many events held late into the night at cultural institutions such as the National Museum of Singapore, the Peranakan Museum, Singapore Art Museum, The Substation and more. You’ll have a hoot too at the various street and music performances, by local and international artists, all playing their original works. If you’re in town, don’t miss your chance to see Singapore’s heritage, arts and culture in an entirely different light.
Hungry Ghost Festival
Just as the Americans have Halloween, the Chinese have the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Chinese), when the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth. According to custom, these ghosts can get up to mischief if ignored so all sorts of offerings are made during this period, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Notice those metal bins scattered around residential areas and housing estates? They are specifically provided to contain the stacks of hell money and paper offerings, such as cars, watches and jewellery, that are burned by relatives to appease their deceased family members – taking care of their material needs even in the afterlife.
Do watch your step in case you trample on food left out in the open. Although many place their food offerings (oranges, rice or even suckling pig) and joss sticks on proper altars, others tuck them at the side of footpaths or even alongside trees. And as if satisfying the ghosts’ appetites for money and food wasn’t enough, taking care of their entertainment is also important. Large tents are set up in open fields to host raucous dinners and auctions in heartland estates like Ang Mo Kio and Yishun. There are performances too, such as Chinese operas and 'getai' (literally ‘song stage’ in Chinese, or live stage performances), which feature tales of gods and goddesses, bawdy stand-up comedy, as well as song and dance numbers. Everyone is welcome – so sit back and enjoy the show. Just remember not to sit in the front row, unless you want to rub shoulders with the ‘special guests’.
Hari Raya Haji
Muslims in Singapore remember their faith with prayer and reflection during Hari Raya Haji, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice. Lasting four days, Hari Raya Haji commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham's) complete faith and trust in God. This is recounted in the story of God commanding Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael), a commandment that Ibrahim responded to with obedience. God stopped him, and provided him with a sheep to substitute as a sacrifice, instead of his son. During this period, the faithful dress in their finest clothes and congregate in mosques to listen to sermons and offer their prayers. But the most important ritual observed here is that of 'korban' (sacrifice). Worshippers contribute live sheep, lambs, goats and cows, which are slaughtered by a quick slit to the jugular as prayers are recited. This act reminds worshippers of the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to offer up even his own flesh and blood to God. The animal is then cleaned and the meat carved up and distributed. The tradition is that the person who paid for the animal gets one-third of the meat and one-third goes to family and friends. As this festival is about compassion, sharing wealth and remembering blessings, the last third is usually distributed to the poor and the needy. After this, Muslims pay social visits to parents, families and friends, and relax over a meal together. There is little overt feasting or merrymaking – this is one festival that is more about spiritual needs than physical ones.
Grand Prix Season Singapore
With blazing hot track action and a whole slew of island-wide concerts and parties, the city got all revved up for the Grand Prix Season Singapore. The season drew throngs of international and regional visitors to the island city for a piece of non-stop action — both on and off-circuit. At the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, fans were thrilled by the high-octane racing action and cheered at concerts which featured heavyweight local and international acts. Off-circuit, the atmosphere was no less electric, with a whole slew of off-track entertainment options for every taste and budget, taking the festive fun up a notch. With the entire city abuzz with activity, it’s no wonder that the Singapore race is often referred to as the crown jewel in the Formula 1 circuit and continues to garner global attention, sealing it as a highlight on many a traveller’s calendar.
An indisputable highlight amid the season’s festivities was the Formula 1 race, and stakes were high as drivers and teams tested their mettle in the twisty turns of the Marina Bay Street Circuit. After the race, the crowds flocked to the post-race concerts, which have evolved from trackside entertainment into a beast of its own. The ninth edition saw Australian songbird Kylie Minogue dazzling the crowds with her shimmering outfits and electrifying performance, while Queen + Adam Lambert shared the stage to bring the house down. Rounding up the all-star line-up were other big names such as Imagine Dragons, Halsey and Pentatonix.
Off-circuit, visitors were treated to an array of vibrant shopping, dining, cultural and party experiences, drumming up the excitement island-wide.
A-list bashes such as Amber Lounge and Podium Lounge pulled out all the stops with everything from circus acts to haute fashion shows. Other partygoers wandered off the beaten track instead, opting for Hotel Vagabond’s dinner theatre experience or the unique market-in-the-skies concept at 1-Altitude’s Johnnie Walker Circuit Party. With Singapore being a well-known gastronomic paradise, foodie travellers were also spoilt for choice. They made a beeline for gourmet food festival Savour, pored over special menus from Artichoke and Smoke & Mirrors and tried local fare such as satay (grilled meat skewers) at the iconic Lau Pa Sat food centre. Culture vultures had much to cheer about, too, with the Singapore International Festival of Arts in full gear and exhibitions at the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum to keep them enthralled.
The sheer variety of merchant deals also tempted many to drop their dollar — visitors picked up quirky knick-knacks from local design collective Naiise, scored bargains at Zouk’s Flea & Easy or chose from exquisite ceramics at the Supermama Porcelain Festival. Festive celebrations during the season such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Deepavali added further colour to the island, with visitors heading to Chinatown, Little India and Gardens by the Bay for gorgeous light-ups that enthralled one and all.
Marking the end of the autumn harvest, the Mid-Autumn Festival was traditionally a time to give thanks to the gods. It is also a time of year that the moon is at its brightest, which is why lunar legends have always been attached to the celebration. Notably, the story of Chang Er, the wife of a merciless king who downed the elixir of immortality he had intended to drink, to save her people from his tyrannical rule. The tale goes that she ascended to the moon after that, and has been worshipped by the Chinese as a Moon Goddess ever since. Since the Mid-Autumn Festival is about lunar appreciation, celebrations go into full swing once the sun goes down. Moon-viewing parties are a popular way to enjoy the occasion, as family and friends sit in gardens lit by the soft glow of paper lanterns, sip tea, nibble on mooncakes, and if so inspired, compose poetry in venerable Tang Dynasty fashion. Children love this festival because they get to tote lanterns.
The traditional opt for those lighted by wax candles – elegant paper versions or more elaborate multi-hued cellophane and wire structures shaped into everything from cars to cartoon characters. There are also unfortunately, plastic battery-operated music-emitting versions – but to each his own. You’ll get to examine the real thing up close at some of the celebrations around the island, particularly in Chinatown where large beautiful lanterns will be on display – marvels of creativity, artistry and traditional craftsmanship. You’ll also get to sample mooncakes and fine teas at the street bazaars, watch nightly performances and peek at lantern-painting competitions. Without a doubt, mooncakes are the main highlight of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Legend has it that they helped to free Yuan China from Mongol rule, after rebels organised an uprising by passing messages hidden in these seasonal sweets. Today, you’ll find them in many varieties, from the traditional with lotus seed paste and egg yolk, to snowskin versions filled with everything from chocolate to champagne truffle. They are best enjoyed with a strong, palate-cleansing cup of Chinese tea.
WTA Finals Singapore, October
The crown jewel of the women's tennis circuit, the WTA Finals returned to Singapore for more smashing action. The world’s top eight women’s Singles players and Doubles pairs went head-to-head for the coveted championship titles, not to mention a US$7 million prize. The action took place over 10 days, starting with the Singles Draw Ceremony at Marina Bay Sands, followed by the Doubles Draw Ceremony at the Fan Village a few days later, where fans saw the players get matched up against each other during the live draw. Dominika Cibulkova emerged as the unexpected champion when she beat top seed Angelique Kerber – who she lost to during the round robin matches. Being crowned WTA Finals Singles Champion is the biggest title of Cibulkova’s career to date. On the Doubles front, Rio Olympics Gold medallists Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova also scored a well-deserved trophy.
Off court, the inaugural Family Day took place on 23 October with games and a variety of fun activities for the young and young at heart. Fans also had the opportunity to get up-close and personal with their favourite tennis stars in the Fan Village — some even walking away with prized autographs and signed mementos. Young athletes also got the chance to shine at the WTA Future Stars Tournament, which saw budding sporting superstars taking to the courts – with maybe even a future WTA Finals champion walking amongst them. The top eight of women’s tennis turned in match after match of nail-biting racket action. This year’s WTA Finals also saw many new faces – audiences were excited to see first-time contenders at the WTA Finals in Singapore, such as Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova, both of whom put up a good fight against their more experienced competitors. Beyond the gameplay, the atmosphere was kept electric all-round with opening ceremony performances by Sophie Beem, player appearances at the Fan Village as well as a fun-filled Family Day.
Celebrated by Hindus across the world to mark the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, the symbolism of Deepavali is aptly summed up in the simple act of lighting an oil lamp. And this is precisely what thousands of Hindu families all around Singapore do, turning their homes into enclaves of warm golden light even as they offer prayers, exchange gifts and share sweetmeats with each other. Longing for a slice of the action? Head to Little India where the streets are transformed into a fantasyland of colourful arches and stunning lights. Wander through the bazaars with their glittering gold and gems, exquisitely embroidered saris and gleaming golden oil lamps. Inhale the scent of marigolds, roses and jasmine, thickly braided into lush floral garlands mingling with the perfume of sweet incense and the fragrance of Indian spices and Ayurvedic massage oils. Take in an open-air concert, get an intricately patterned henna tattoo and sample a delicious curry with fresh 'roti prata' (dough flat bread) at a nearby restaurant. Or just sit back and relax with a 'teh tarik' (frothy milk tea) at a coffeeshop, and watch one of the most beautiful festivals in Singapore flower into vivid life.
Christmas on A Great Street, November - January
Whip out your cameras and smartphones, and get ready to snap some seriously stunning shots as you experience Christmas on A Great Street at Orchard Road. For six weeks every year, Orchard Road is transformed into a Christmas wonderland, as majestic arches and millions of glittering lights line the streets for 2.88 kilometres, from Tanglin Mall all the way to Plaza Singapura. It’s the time of year when this iconic boulevard is at its most enchanting, with dazzling lights, gorgeous colours and a unique collection of interactive set displays. Expect the usual shopping delights of Orchard Road but with a seasonal twist, and street-side activities with festive pop-up stores and roaming performers – there’s plenty of fun to be had for everyone!
The fun officially starts at the Light Up Ceremony, which sees the Christmas decorations lit up for the first time and brought to life. To celebrate this not-to-be-missed occasion, the road is closed to traffic for the day, and instead of bustling traffic you’ll find a street full of bright lights and entertaining activities that everyone can enjoy. Visitors both young and old get to play games at specially designed booths, with wonderful prizes to be won. And since you’re at the most popular shopping destination in town, get started on Christmas shopping for your loved ones at the Christmas Market — a perfect opportunity for any last-minute gift hunting you need to get done. Look out for a whole series of larger-than-life installations, too, including interactive set displays that light up and serenade you with your favourite Christmas tunes when you play with them.
The young (and young at heart) delight in the many roving Christmas characters all around Orchard Road — be sure to pose for a fun photo or two with them. Christmas on A Great Street never fails to bring a festive, carnival-like atmosphere to the city’s busiest shopping district. To add to the ambience of “the most wonderful time of the year”, Christmas music is played from speakers between ION Orchard and Takashimaya. The street also turns into a stage with mini-performances by local musicians, Christmas carollers, and jazz bands providing the ultimate ‘live’ soundtrack to get you in the mood for Christmas. Kids especially love the ‘snow’ at Tanglin Mall, which has been turned into a wintry wonderland every festive season since 1996, as well as the gigantic, bauble-adorned Christmas trees that go up at Ngee Ann City and outside ION Orchard.
While strutting down Orchard Road, keep your eyes peeled for your favourite building façade, which will be ‘dressed’ to the nines with lights and seasonal décor. The Christmas light-ups get better each year as the malls and department stores compete for the annual Best Dressed Building award. Expect to see an array of show-stopping decorations, from giant bows and dreamy fairy-tale castles to mechanised reindeer and nutcracker soldiers. With no shortage of exciting events, Instagram-worthy sights and a myriad of retail and restaurant choices, there’s no better place to embrace the season of joy. Don’t miss Christmas on A Great Street if you’re here in Singapore — and at Orchard Road — during the holiday period.
Christmas Wonderland, December - January
Fancy sipping on a warm mug of glühwein (mulled wine) or wolfing down gingerbread treats at the famed European Christmas markets? Good news — you won’t have to travel to find yourself in a Winter Wonderland. Soak up the festive spirit this holiday season at Christmas Wonderland — a festival of lights, food and family fun at Gardens by the Bay. Ever since the inaugural Christmas Wonderland, the festival has been raking in the crowds, with over 1.6 million people joining in the festivities. Christmas Wonderland expands into The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay, adding 22,000 square metres of lights and celebration to the spectacle, juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Flower Dome and Dragonfly Bridge. The heat and humidity won’t stop you from indulging in some frosty fun at Christmas Wonderland!
Bundle up and head for the festival’s Ice Palace, where you can bust out the ice skates for a spin on a rink made of real ice, or start a snowball fight at the snow playground. Kids, check if you’re on the ‘nice’ list, and pose for a photo with Father Christmas at Santa’s Cottage. What’s a Christmas fair without thrills? Go for a joyride on the enchanting, vintage-style carousel, or whirl around the fairgrounds on board the Christmas train and take in the sights. Don’t forget to check out the live music acts and Christmas parades, or try your hand at winning a prize at one of the many carnival game booths. The Christmas Wonderland Festive Market is the heart of the festivities. Brimming with charm and colour, it’s reminiscent of the Christkindlmarkts of Germany and the Marché de Noëls of France, with a Singaporean twist.
Start by weaving your way through the market stalls, and browsing through an eclectic array of handmade accessories. Then, nibble on festive snacks or local street food, and taste some wines while soaking in the Christmas cheer. Make it a fun day out for the family at Christmas Wonderland’s Hi-5 Funtastic House, where the little ones will get to play on inflatable slides, take part in interactive games, let their inner superstars out at the Hi-5 karaoke room, as well as dress up as their favourite Hi-5 characters. Celebrate Christmas in a new light at Christmas Wonderland, where a magnificent display of Luminarie light sculptures — all of which are hand-made with whitewood from the South of Italy — illuminate and transform the Marina Bay area when night falls.
The only time you’ll catch techno kids, trance heads, hip-hop fans and more together on the same beach in Singapore, ZoukOut is the ultimate party for music lovers and anyone out for a really fun time. We’re talking serious players here, with headlining DJs from Singapore and around the globe. Big names who have graced the decks and stages at ZoukOut include DJ Afrojack, Avicii, Ferry Corsten, Paul van Dyk, Masters at Work, Sven Väth, David Guetta and Carl Cox. Revellers of the local nightlife circuit will also recognise names such as Hong, Jeremy Boon, Adrian Wee, djB, Aldrin and Andrew Chow.
Keep your ears peeled for the many musical genres at ZoukOut including house, techno, trance, electro, alternative/indie-electronic and hip-hop. This dance music extravaganza is the place to kick back and cut loose with thousands of party-goers and ZoukOut devotees from all over the world, all heading to Sentosa to party from dusk till dawn. Take in the heady vibe, with the festival grounds’ golden sands, sultry sea breeze and beautiful people. You won’t get hungry or thirsty either, with a vast (and we mean very vast) selection of food and drink booths.
Christmas in Singapore is a big celebration that gives the locals another excuse to do what they love most: eat and shop. The famous shopping belt on Orchard Road is spectacularly lit up every December to ramp up the festive mood, and serves as a blazing reminder to hit the malls. Meanwhile, Christmas spreads and Yuletide menus pop up at restaurants across the island, giving a festive twist to an already impressive dining scene. It’s not all indulgence though. At its heart, the holiday is still a special day for Singapore’s many Christians. It’s a religious celebration like any other, except over here, everyone gets to take part in the frenzy and the fun of fake snow, men in santa suits and of course, Christmas presents!