Singapore is often described as a cultural melting pot. Nothing testifies to this more than the wide array of festivals that celebrate many of its 10 official religions. In fact, a 2014 analysis found Singapore to be the world’s most religiously diverse nation.
Great care is taken to ensure that an equal number of public holidays are given for the religions with the largest followings — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
Although they make up a small percentage of Singapore’s population, the Jewish community has made a profound impression on our history. Most notably, our first Chief Minister David Marshall was the son of Iraqi Jews who came here from Baghdad in the early 20th century. We also have many other prominent Jewish figures who emigrated to Singapore from many parts of the world such as Isaac Belilios, after whom a street in Little India is named, plus Manasseh Meyer, David Elias, Jacob Ballas, Ezekiel Manasseh, and many more.
Today their heritage and contribution can be found in many of our beautiful buildings and other places. Not the least of which is our two magnificent synagogues, but also places like Eden Hall, the Jacob Ballas children’s garden in the Botanic Gardens, and the David Elias building in the old Mahallah district.
One of the most vibrant, colourful, and memorable temple festivals you will ever witness, Thaipusam is a thanks-giving and penance-seeking religious event for Tamilian Hindus. In this amazing form of worship, devotees pierce their bodies with long metal skewers and carry burdens of 40 kg for four kilometres, all the while dancing to rhythmic chants.
Celebrated in only a few countries, Thaipusam in Singapore differs from the festival in India, where Hindus from the state of Tamil Nadu carry heavy milk pots — and not the cumbersome kavadis carried here. The procession is a photographer’s paradise where light, colour and frenzy come together.
The Monkey God’s Festival falls on the 16th day of the Eighth Lunar month. In Singapore, there are a number of temples dedicated to this main character from Chinese literary classics. We visit the oldest Monkey God Temple in Singapore to follow the God’s procession with his local devotees. This is accompanied by lion dancing, clashing cymbals, opera singing and banging drums — a truly unforgettable experience.
The late-in-the-year festival of lights, also pronounced Diwali, is a colorful celebration commemorating the triumph of light over darkness, or good over evil, as exemplified in the Indian classic story, the Ramayana.
During this period, the streets of Little India are illuminated with colourful decorations, special markets are set up, and people of all backgrounds enjoy the fun associated with new clothes, family time, and heaps of delicious foods.
Also called the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year is familiar to people the world over with its many rituals. A 15-day celebration starts on the New Moon and ends with the Full Moon. Each year is attributed to one of 12 animals in the zodiac and decorations in that animal’s image festoon the streets of Chinatown.
From the glitzy decorations of Orchard Road’s shopping area to the beautifully decorated churches, Christmas is a widely celebrated festival in Singapore. To create the wintry feel associated with this time of the year, we even have regular daily snowfalls at some of the shopping malls.
Christianity was brought to Asia by a variety of European missionaries and today a large percentage of Singapore’s population is Christian — as of 2015, approximately 19%.
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar and our annual walking tour meanders around the main beautifully-restored downtown churches to see how it is celebrated here.