Your Guide to Singapore's Public Holidays & Festivals
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, with Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic groups comprising its sociocultural fabric. The influx of foreigners in recent times has lent a cosmopolitan image and Singapore’s lifestyle is multi-cultural. Each of the ethnic communities maintain their unique way of life and at the same time live harmoniously. Given this unique blend of cultures and people, Singapore’s event calendar is marked with holidays and celebrations all year round. Festivals range from religious celebrations, socio-cultural festivities and sports events.
Outlined below is a glimpse of the popular holidays and festivals celebrated in Singapore.
Singapore celebrates festivals that are specific to each of its ethnic groups and their respective religions. Additionally, certain important anniversaries are celebrated island-wide by the entire nation. These significant religious festivals and important dates are declared as public holidays in Singapore. The 10 annual public holidays are as follows:
- New Years Day
- Chinese New Year
- Good Friday
- Labour Day
- Vesak day
- National Day
- Hari Raya Puasa
- Hari Raya Haji
- Christmas Day
Popular Religious Festivals celebrated in Singapore
New Year's Day
The year begins with festivities and every New Year heralds celebrations in Singapore. There are several venues that hold New Year’s Eve Countdown Parties for the public. The most popular waterfront events are ‘The Marina Bay Singapore Countdown’ and ‘Siloso Beach Party’ at Sentosa. Most of the Singaporeans frequent either of these locations to enjoy the public performances and witness the impressive fireworks display. Other popular party spots can be found along Orchard Road, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is one of the most anticipated celebrations in Singapore. The festival begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar, which usually falls between the last week of January and early February. Preparations begin weeks ahead of the Chinese New Year and the city wears a festive spirit during this period. Families celebrate by partaking in reunion feasts, making new year visits to the homes of family and friends, exchanging hongbao (red envelopes with monetary gifts), gifting tiny Mandarin trees (symbolises prosperity) and visiting the temple.
The hub of all activity is a brightly lit Chinatown, with spectacular overarching decorations and Chinese lanterns lining its streets. Most Chinese families assemble in this ethnic quarter to enjoy its myriad sights and sounds and savour traditional Chinese goodies. Most shopping malls are decorated with traditional ornaments in the auspicious colours of red and gold and offer attractive discounts and promotions.
The famous lion and dragon dances are held at Chinatown and along the Singapore River at both the quays. Chinese New Year Celebrations culminate on the 15th day of the new year, as the Spring Lantern Festival.
Ten days after the Lantern Festival, is the biggest parade in Singapore known as the ‘Chingay Parade’ – a street and float parade with various performances ranging from acrobatics to traditional dances. For more information on Chingay click here.
Vesak Day, the full moon day of the fourth lunar month, is the most important annual event for the Buddhist community in Singapore. Vesak Day usually falls in the month of May and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and final nirvana of the Buddha. Buddhist temples are colourfully decorated with Buddhist flags and lights and shrines are adorned with flowers, fruits and other offerings. Vesak Day celebrations are closed hall events open to members of the public. Some of the highlights include: vegetarian food fair, public talks, hymn singing etc. Acts of generosity known as dana are observed by Buddhist organizations and temples. Vesak Day entails a quieter celebration than most other festivals in Singapore.
Deepavali or the Festival of Lights is the most important festival in the Hindu calendar and the most significant festival for the Indian community in Singapore. Deepavali usually falls in the month of October or November and celebrations begin weeks ahead in the Indian ethnic quarter of Little India. Signifying the triumph of good over evil or light over darkness, the streets of Little India sport colourful lights and traditional overarching decorations. Roadside stalls sell terracotta lamps, flowers and other traditional decorative items. Sweetmeat shops offer a wide array of mouth-watering traditional Indian sweets and savouries.
Families celebrate by partaking in reunion feasts, visiting the homes of family and friends, exchanging sweets, lighting oil lamps at home and visiting the temple. There are a number of cultural celebrations that take place during this period. Since there is a ban on bursting fire crackers in Singapore, most families get together and light sparklers in the late evening.
Hari Raya Puasa
Commonly known as Eid Ul Fitr world over, Hari Raya Puasa is a major festival for the Malay community in Singapore and usually falls in the month of September or October. Hari Raya Puasa marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Geylang Serai, the cultural heart of the Malay/Muslim community is well lit and decorated, and a festive mood prevails. There are colourful festive bazaars and numerous food stalls offering traditional Malay fare. Cultural performances like traditional Malay song and dance also form part of the celebrations. Families celebrate by wearing their finest clothes, attending early morning prayer meetings at local mosques, visiting family and friends and partaking in a thanksgiving feast.
Hari Raya Haji
Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or Eid Al Adha, Hari Raya Haji marks the end of the Haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Hari Raya Haji usually falls in the month of November or December and festivities are similar to those of Hari Raya Puasa.
Christmas is considered the most enchanting time of the year and the holiday spirit sets in weeks ahead of Christmas Day. Titled ‘Christmas in the Tropics’, a seven week extravaganza that celebrates the spirit of Christmas unfolds every year from the end of November and continues until the ringing in of the New Year. Famed for its Christmas Light-Up, Orchard Road and Marina Bay are transformed during this period, by festive street lighting, glorious celebratory arches, brilliant water features and picture-perfect themed sets. Key night time entertainment along Orchard Road during the festive season includes: Christmas-themed activities by choral groups, musicians, dancers; ‘Parade of Floats’; the popular ‘ZoukOut’ outdoor dance festival on Sentosa (organised by ‘The Zouk’, one of Singapore’s popular nightclubs); and many other events. Adding to the joyous festivities are the specially decorated shop windows and stunning Christmas decorations in the malls. Many malls and retailers offer special shopping deals, late night shopping as well as post-Christmas sales. Families attend mid-night mass, visit relatives and friends and enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner.
Other religious festivals in Singapore include: Hungry Ghosts Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival/Mooncake Festival/Lantern Festival, Thaipusam, Easter, etc.
Socio-cultural and Sports Festivals
- National Day – Singapore’s National Day falls on August 9th and the National Day Parade (NDP) is a commemoration of Singapore’s Independence. One of Singapore’s much anticipated annual events, the NDP witnesses close to 25,000 spectators every year. Held at the Marina Bay, the celebrations include pre-parade light-hearted filler events, followed by the actual parade and ceremonies including the popular Presidential Gun Salute and culminates into a Grand Finale which is a 45 minute show segment, followed by an impressive fireworks display. The atmosphere is charged and most spectators sport the National Flag’s colours of red and white. You will also find the National Flag displayed on the facade of most housing estates across the island.
- Singapore Heritage Fest – This festival is an initiative to get to know more about the various cultures in Singapore and their traditions, food, costumes, music, art etc. through a series of exhibitions, heritage tours, culinary events and cultural performances. This is an annual event held in the month of July.
- Singapore Food Festival – Held annually in July, the Singapore Food Festival is a celebration of local food. Festival highlights include, food carnivals, trails, workshops, as well as joint food-oriented promotions.
- The Great Singapore Sale – One of the most popular and much awaited annual events, held every June – July, the Great Singapore Sale is an absolute shopping extravaganza with retailers providing discounts of up to 70% off the usual prices island wide.
- Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF)- The largest film event in Singapore and one of Asia’s premier film festivals, the SIFF is held in April every year. The Festival screens over 200 international films of all genres, with a focus on ground-breaking Asian cinema. Apart from film screenings, the festival also features workshops, seminars and exhibitions on film-making.
- Singapore International Arts Festival – An island-wide national celebration of the arts, the Festival offers high quality, free and ticketed outdoor performances in theatre arts, dance, music and visual art. Besides local participants, approximately 70% of the events are put up by international artists. It is usually held in the months of May – June.
- Singapore Fashion Festival -The annual two-week long festival, held between March-April, aims to make Singapore the fashion capital of the Southeast Asian region. The Festival highlights include showcasing international and local designers’ collections, fashion shows, exhibitions and related fashion fringe events.
- M1 Singapore Fringe Festival – This is a 12-day annual festival of theatre, performing arts, film, dance, visual art, mixed media, music and forum, created and presented by both Singaporean and international artists. Held around the end of January, the festival centres around a different theme each year and it aims to bring the best of contemporary, cutting-edge and socially engaged works to the Singapore audience.
- Dragon Boat Festival– The highlight of this festival are the dragon boat races which take place annually every June and features both local and international rowers. This is also a great time to enjoy traditional rice dumplings and the festival is also known as ‘The Dumpling Festival’.