Singapore is a relatively young country, sewn together from radically different races and cultures. No wonder their holidays are also quite diverse!
Both religious holidays and secular celebrations take place in Singapore, and guests are encouraged to take part in any of them, no matter what your particular religious or cultural allegiance. During religious/cultural holidays, Singapore's ethnic enclaves transform into brightly lit, bazaar-lined festive zones; for more secular festivities, the activities take place all around the island.
Chinese New Year is Singapore's holiday highlight, celebrated with gusto by Singapore's Chinese ethnic majority. (In 2018, Chinese New Year begins on February 16.)
Chinese families get together for family reunions, giving "Hong Bao" (envelopes of cash) to unmarried family members, and catching up.
Look for two major events taking place during Chinese New Year - the Chingay Parade, a street parade that takes place along the Formula One paddock next to the Singapore Flyer; and the River Hong Bao, Esplanade Park's explosion of fun, games, and food. Elsewhere around Chinatown, check out the festive Street Bazaars and nightly stage shows taking place only around this special holiday.
Singapore's Tamil population honors the Hindu god Subramaniam on Thaipusam. Devotees undertake spectacular sacrifices to win favor with Subramaniam, such as bearing the kavadi: a portable altar attached to the devotee by 108 metal skewers stuck through the skin!
These devotees can be seen in the traditional chariot procession that begins at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road, proceeding to the Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak Road.
Thaipusam is a moveable feast relative to the Gregorian Calendar: in 2018, it takes place on January 31.
Hari Raya Puasa marks the end of the fasting season of Ramadan, and is the most avidly celebrated Muslim holiday in Singapore. (In 2017, it takes place on the evening of June 14.)
The action is centered mainly around the Arab/Malay ethnic enclave of Kampong Glam: street bazaars there serve a wide variety of Malay food on the eve of Hari Raya Puasa, a delicious breaking of the fast for many hungry Singaporeans.
In the morning, Muslims gather at the mosque to pray, then hold reunions with families in brand new clothes. The historic buildings around Kampong Glam are decorated festively for the occasion, and hotels and restaurants around the area give away special Hari Raya-themed offers for tourists and locals alike!
The celebration is not a purely Muslim event - it's become more popular to invite non-Muslim friends into one's household to help celebrate the day.
Singapore Food Festival: Hawkers and Fine Dining Unite
Singapore is food-mad all year round - and this comes to a head on the Singapore Food Festival, an annual event held all July.
Singapore's solid culinary heritage takes center stage during the Food Festival, with local and international chefs showing their mad skillz at venues throughout the island. Culinary workshops, themed food events, cooking competitions, and lectures by notable chefs introduce visitors to enjoy flavors from all over the world.
The Singapore Hawker Feast draws most of Singapore's top hawker stalls into one place, sparing tourists the trouble of roaming all over the island to try them all. Hawker fare will be served alongside cuisine from the island's top chefs, in an event called STREAT – diners will be challenged to decide which is better!
Even if you don't attend the Food Festival's special events, you won't be left out: restaurants and stores offer great deals on food during this time of the year, so eat up!
Hungry Ghost Festival appeases the ghosts who (Taoists believe) roam the earth for a month every year. (In 2017, it begins on August 25.) These ghosts are easily appeased with traditional Chinese operas and extravagant feasts, all held outdoors in public view.
The festival has become a full-fledged celebration of traditional Chinese culture, with performances of Chinese entertainments everywhere, mixed with the ever-present scent of joss sticks burning in front of small altars. Families will burn paper crafts in the shape of modern items (cars, money, condominium buildings) for their ancestors' use.
One thing you will not see in Singapore during Hungry Ghost month: business deals. The Chinese believe that one should not travel or make major business decisions during this time, as that will be courting bad luck!
Every September, Singapore takes Grand Prix to the streets! The country's 3.14-mile Formula One route is centered around the modern district of Marina Bay, careens around some of Singapore's best-known tourist spots, and takes place at night (the first time this was permitted to occur).
You can check out the races from any sports bar, but nothing beats a seat in the bleachers, with earmuffs to guard against the deafening howl of the cars racing past. Formula-one fans now have a wealth of options as far as seating is concerned, depending on your budget.
The Singapore F1 race is also gaining fame as a pop music event, as the organizers bring in a dazzling array of musical talent to keep the audience entertained between laps. 2016's lineup includes Adam Lambert, Pentatonix, and Kylie Minogue.
Deepavali: Little India Parties Down
Singapore's Hindu community celebrates Deepavali (also known to the rest of the world as Diwali) to commemorate the victory of Lord Krishna over evil. Deepavali is the start of the Indian New Year (in 2017, it will take place on November 7), and is primarily celebrated in Little India.
Like New Year celebrations of the region's other religions, Hindus celebrate the season by holding family reunions, throwing "open-house" parties, holding open-air markets, and settling debts. Homes are decorated with floor art (kolam), tinsel, and mango leaves. Children light sparklers, and rows of oil lamps are placed in the home to bring the light of goodness into the household.
The markets in Little India are the best place for visitors to get into the Deepavali mood. Serangoon Road comes alive with bazaars and cultural performances throughout October. Little India's Campbell Lane is organized into a street bazaar selling Indian sundries, from spices to saris. And the Deepavali Street Parade transforms Little India into the island's hottest party scene.
Little India glows with arches of brilliant lights, and Serangoon Road comes alive with bazaars and cultural performances throughout October. The "light-up" of Serangoon Road is beautiful to see, particularly the stretch between Sungei Road and Lavender Street.
Singapore's Yuletide season stretches out to over six weeks, beginning in November when the Orchard Road shopping area initiates a colorful Christmas Light-Up; and ending with the New Year celebration in Marina Bay.
The Christmas celebrations on the island are a shopper's dream - extended mall hours spur shoppers to new heights of excess, pushed by new shopping promotions left and right.
As December gives way to the New Year, parties break out to ring it in, from the ever-popular ZoukOut to the Marina Bay New Year Party that culminates in releasing thousands of "Wishing Spheres" into the bay's waters.