Celebrate All Year Round with These Cultural Festivals in Singapore

Celebrate All Year Round with These Cultural Festivals in Singapore

Singapore’s cultural diversity is its pride and joy. What better way to immerse yourself in it than by celebrating all year round?

Okay, sightseeing spots are fun, but a little too mainstream, don’t you think? To truly experience the heart of Singapore, join the locals in their cultural festivities. Not to worry if you’re not visiting during the end-of-year ‘festive season’ ─ this cultural melting pot will impress and thrill you all year round!

January to March


When: Mid January to Mid February

Originating in South India, this Tamil festival (whose name means ‘to overflow’) is one of thanksgiving to Surya, the Sun God, for a bountiful harvest. The celebration traditionally involves the making of pongu (rice with milk, nuts and spices) in new clay pots, as well as the honouring of cattle for their farm work by painting their horns, bestowing them with flower garlands and feeding them special snacks.

Though traditionally celebrated over four days, Pongal festivities in Singapore last throughout the month of Thai, the tenth month of the Tamil calendar. It all begins with the stunning Pongal Light-Up Ceremony in Little India, followed by an array of performances and hands-on activities in the area.

Try your hand at Pongal clay pot painting, then fill your hand-decorated pot at the mass pongu cooking sessions on Kinta Road while enjoying dazzling Indian song and dance performances. Finally, visit the pedestrian-only Pongal festival village along Campbell Lane for souvenirs, intricate jewellery, and ingredients and cutlery for your own pongu-making endeavours!


When: End of January

Image credit: William Cho

Don’t miss this festival, because it lasts only 2 days! Celebrated by Tamil Hindus, Thaipusam is a day dedicated to Lord Murugan, the god of virtue, youth and power.

A must-see is the chariot procession, conducted on the eve of the full moon. Be there at the crack of dawn to witness Hindu devotees carrying milk pots and kavadis (a large wooden structure worn on the back), decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, set off from Sri Thendayuthapani temple in River Valley. You’re sure to be amazed by the men flaunting 4m-tall kavadis that can weigh a staggering 40kg – with spikes piercing their backs!

Chinese New Year

When: Mid February

Image credit: Erwin Soo

A visit to the River Hongbao event at the Marina Bay floating platform is a great way to herald the arrival of spring! Be wowed by 11 nights of fireworks, attempt traditional Chinese crafts like calligraphy and paper cutting, or let your hair down at the amusement park!

And of course, you get to taste traditional Chinese snacks like long xu tang (spun sugar ‘Dragon Beard’ candy), cong you bing (spring onion pancakes) and kong bak pau (fatty pork in steamed buns). All this with the beautiful backdrop of handcrafted lanterns (including a larger-than-life God of Fortune!), accompanied by the upbeat rhythm of Chinese drums and cymbals.

April to June

Hari Raya Puasa

When: After Ramadan, between May to June

Image credit: Visit Singapore

Also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Eid, this celebration marks the end of a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Actually, most of the action takes place in the month leading up to Hari Raya!

If you’re around the Kampong Glam area, pop by the iconic Sultan Mosque in the afternoon to stock up on Malay snacks at bazaars, then catch a glimpse of iftar (breaking fast) rituals at the mosque at sundown. Some mosques also welcome visitors to break fast with worshippers (make sure you’re appropriately attired)!

Alternatively, soak in the atmosphere at the bustling Geylang Serai Bazaar, where you’ll find traditional Malay outfits like the baju kurung and baju Melayu, Malay snacks like apam balik (peanut and sugar pancakes) and scrumptious local cuisine with a hipster twist (think chilli crab churros and rainbow Ramly burgers)!

Dragon Boat Festival

When: 5th Day of the 5th Lunar Month

Image credit: Victor WYK

Legend has it that a patriotic Chinese poet, in despair over the capture of his kingdom, threw himself into a river. Villagers raced out in boats to retrieve his body while throwing rice dumplings into the water to prevent the fish from gobbling him up. Since then, the event has been commemorated with Dragon Boat races, and of course, feasting on glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in pandan leaves (known as zhang).

To immerse yourself in the action, watch adrenaline-pumping Dragon Boat races at Bedok Reservoir, Kallang River or DBS Marina Regatta at Marina Bay. You must also definitely get yourself a bunch of zhang: bak zhang are stuffed with pork and water chestnuts (the Peranakan version includes five-spice powder), while kee zhang are sweet and dipped in coconut sugar. We suggest that you not throw yours into the water, though!

July to September

Singapore Food Festival

When: Mid to End July

Image credit: Rainbow Lapis

From Michelin-starred restaurants to cheap treats from a coffee shop, there’s no question that the one thing Singaporeans all love most is food. So much so that we celebrate our local cuisine each year with an island-wide festival. Lucky for you if you’re in town while SFF is on!

For hearty old-school flavours, head down to Hawker Spotlight, which places its focus on a different hawker centre each year, or the crowd-pleasing 50-Cents Fest in Chinatown where you can get suan pan zi (‘abacus seeds’, round stir-fried yam disks), Teochew Ah Balling (glutinous balls with fillings) and more… yes, for only 50 cents each!

To savour some Peranakan delights, why not sign up for a heritage food trail around Katong and Joo Chiat for a traditional Tok Panjang (Long Table) feast? Then, tickle your tastebuds with a kueh-pairing session featuring a scintillating array of Nonya kueh (sweets) and drinks of all sorts.

End off your gastronomical adventure with a bang at STREAT, which offers intriguing contemporary takes on Singaporean staples: kimchi popiah (wraps), dark chocolate rojak (fruit and dough fritter salad) and buah keluak chai tow kway (Chinese radish cake with Malay fermented nut paste) were favourites at STREAT 2017.

Foodies, don’t miss this ─ food is what Singaporeans do best!

Hungry Ghost Festival

When: 7th month of the Lunar calendar, August to September

Image credit: Dickson Phua

According to Chinese custom, the souls of the deceased roam the earth during the 7th month. You may notice metal bins placed around for the burning of joss sticks, food and paper money ─ apparently, the ghosts can cause trouble if not given gracious offerings!

One of the hallmarks of the Hungry Ghost Festival is the getai (Chinese opera) performances, often staged in large tented areas in the heartlands. Previously conducted only in dialect, modern getai singers continue to draw crowds by infusing their performances with English and Mandarin hits.

It’d be a waste not to catch a getai performance during this period ─ just be sure to avoid the first row of seats unless you want to make some otherworldly friends!

Mid-Autumn Festival

When: 15th day of the Lunar calendar’s 8 month, Mid to End September

Image credit: J. Annie Wang

Dozens of folktales surround the origins of this festival, also commonly known as the Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival. Make your way to Chinese Garden or Chinatown, where you’re likely to see a procession of children parading traditional paper lanterns lit by candles, or plastic ones that emit electronic light and music. Admire enchanting tableaus made from lanterns, or get yourself a lantern from a provision shop and join in the fun!

You might also appreciate Esplanade’s annual Moonfest where you can sit back and enjoy Chinese storytelling and cross-talk performances. You can also participate in lantern-making or mooncake-making workshops or take a stab at guessing deng mi (Chinese riddles, traditionally hung on lanterns) for some wholesome family fun!

That’s not to mention most Singaporeans’ favourite part: the mooncakes, of course! Traditional ones are made of pastry stuffed with bean paste and salted egg yolks, but restaurants have since expanded their repertoire to include snowskin and ice-cream varieties in flavours like durian and champagne truffle.

Don’t feel like going out? Settle down with some mooncakes and a cup of tea and gaze at the big, bright and beautiful moon.

October to December


When: End October or Early November

Image credit: David Sifry

1.5 million light bulbs, majestic installations, the tantalising aroma of Indian food and lovely scent of floral garlands… yes, the Festival of Light looks just as good as its name suggests!

Little India is a hubbub of activity during Deepavali. Bask in the atmosphere as you clap and spin along with Indian dancers and if you’re feeling peckish, simply walk on over to the Deepavali Festival Village where you can buy savoury, crunchy murukku coils or sweet athirasam doughnuts. While you’re at it, grab yourself a glittering embroidered sari (traditional Indian  costume for ladies)!

Snap some photos along the mesmerising lit-up streets and watch a Silver Chariot procession, in which a glorious silver chariot bearing a statue of the goddess Draupadai makes its way from the 185-year-old Sri Mariamman Temple to Little India. Let your jaw hit the floor as devotees partake in the Theemithi ritual, which involves walking barefoot over 4km of burning charcoal and lasts well into the night!


When: 25 December

The lead-up to this joyous day begins at the start of December, as the alluring Christmas light-up along Orchard Road, Singapore’s main retail street, beckons you to shop till you drop!

Otherwise, Gardens by the Bay’s annual Christmas Wonderland is the perfect place for a romantic walk in the park. Pick up some goodies from the Christmas market to ingest some Christmas cheer. The super Instagram-worthy lights are sure to bling up your feed too!

No matter when you’re visiting, you’re sure to be beguiled by Singapore’s spectacular festivities. Whether you’re a history and culture buff, food lover or just really love to party, Singapore is bound to show you a good time!

About Author

Rachel Lee
Rachel Lee

Rachel loves to write, travel, and of course, write about travel. She believes that you can find beauty and wonder in the little things, in any little corner of the world. If you can't find her at a desk with her head stuck in a book or up in the clouds, she is probably dancing or even more probably checking the fridge.


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