Travel guide to Singapore's best festivals - and where to see them

As a highly organised country, Singapore is blessed with no fewer than 11 public holidays – which means there is a good chance one might be happening when you visit. Two are international: New Year's Day and Labour Day. A third, National Day, celebrates Singapore's independence from Malaysia in 1965. The other eight are divided between Singapore's four main ethnic/religious groups. Each has two days a year when the rest of the nation is invited to either join in, or do their own thing.

So what can you expect of each festival? And where are the best places to experience them?

CHINESE NEW YEAR

You have missed the 2018 Year of the Dog celebrations, but there is still time to book in for 2019's Year of the Pig. Why have the Chinese asked for both their days back-to-back? One day to celebrate, another year to recover. Singapore is one of the best places in the world to celebrate the Chinese New Year, outside China. It marks the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar and stretches back to the Emperor Huang Ti, who awarded the first public holiday in history over 4500 years ago. In Singapore, many families celebrate the Chinese New Year over a "steamboat"  –  the traditional hot pot, with people adding whatever meats, fish, vegetables and dumplings they feel appropriate. Meanwhile, the streets of Chinatown are alive with floats, puppets, and performing artists. The festival isn't confined to the two official days. The biggest public event, the Chingay Parade, takes place eight days after the public holiday every year. (February 5-6, 2019)

GOOD FRIDAY

Unlike Christmas, Good Friday is mainly celebrated by Christians, who make up 18 per cent of Singapore's population. St Andrew's Cathedral is the place to take part in the service commemorating a solemn crucifixion.But the rest of Singapore? It just becomes even more of a party town than usual  –  and everything is open, including rooftop bars. (March 30, 2018)

LABOUR DAY

This day  –  hard-won by local workers  –  is when employees gather together for local picnics and barbecues. If you are lucky enough to be invited, soak it up. Otherwise, do what the rest of the city does: shop as if there is no tomorrow. (May 1, 2018)

VESAK DAY

The holiest date on the Buddhist calendar represents both the birth and death of the Buddha. So, of course, the place to witness it is Little India. To see it all, you will need to be at a temple (such as Phor Kark) before dawn, when the saffron-robed monks chant as the worshippers bring their flowers, candles and incense as offerings. Or, then again, you could just watch the later street procession while enjoying a biriyani. (May 29, 2018)

HARI RAYA PUSA

Hari Raya  means "the day of rejoicing", marking the end of Ramadan (June 15, 2018). During this period, devout Muslim men wear a loose shirt with trousers covered by a short sarong while the women wear a variation of the baju kurung, the traditional Malay dress. Despite recent social media criticism, the Geyland Serai Ramadan Bazaar is still the place to try delicious Islamic fare.

NATIONAL DAY

A day when the whole nation comes together, watching military parades, diverse cultural displays, surprise attractions and a spectacular fireworks show over the the reclaimed marina waterfront. (Aug 9, 2018)

HARI RAYA HAJI 

If you can get past the sheep sacrifice, you are onto a winner. After the morning worship, most Muslims go home to share traditional feasts (lamb!) with their extended families. Meanwhile, the Arab Quarter is humming. (Aug 22, 2018)

Advertisement

DEEPAVALI

"The Festival of Lights" is the most important festival for Singapore's Indian community – and it goes on for weeks beforehand in Little India, with colourful lights and elaborate decorations signalling the Hindu triumph of light over darkness. (Nov 6, 2018)

CHRISTMAS DAY and NEW YEAR'S DAY

As you would expect of Singapore, Christmas is a shopper's heaven. Head for Orchard Road, bedecked in the kind of lights you would expect in New York's Fifth Avenue or London's Oxford Street – but with an Asian twist. New Year's Eve is best celebrated with the spectacular fireworks at Marina Bay. But if you are not there on the day, don't fret – the bay plays host to a month-long fringe festival. (Dec 25, 2018, and Jan 1, 2019)

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/singapore

visitsingapore.com

FLY

Singapore Airlines as multiple flights daily from Sydney, Melbourne and other Australian cities, see singaporeair.com

Steve Meacham was a guest of Singapore Airlines.

FIVE OTHER FESTIVALS

Apart from the public holidays, Singapore has a myriad of festivals throughout the year. Here are five of the best.

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

A showcase of top-level theatre, music, dance, and interactive art, this year's Festival of Arts highlights include a theatrical version of George Orwell's 1984, the Asian premier of The Blues Project by the US ensemble Torrance Dance, and a free closing concert by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. (April 26 – May 12, 2018)

DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL

Held each year on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar at the Bedok Reservoir Park, this fiercely competitive event features the best dragon racing teams from across the world. The festival is also celebrated for its ritual Chinese festivities and its food, particularly the traditional dumplings. (June 18, 2018)

SINGAPORE FOOD FESTIVAL

First held in 1994, the festival marks Singapore's rich culinary heritage. Chinatown hosts the 50 Cents Fest, celebrating Chinese street food of the 1980s, while One Farrer Food Street offers a range of food market cuisines from Korea, Japan and Thailand. (July 13 – 29, 2018)

MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL

Lanterns, magic, puppets and mooncakes, this after-dusk festival celebrates the end of the Chinese harvest when villagers gave their thanks, particularly to the Moon Goddess. Head for Chinatown, or better still the normally tranquil Chinese Gardens, which come alive with colour on this special day. (Sept 24, 2018)

ZOUKOUT RAVE FESTIVAL

Two days – and a night! – of nonstop beachfront music and dancing held at Siloso, Sentosa. Previous acts have included Flume, DJ Afrojack and Avicii . (December, TBC*)

Comments