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.
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Chinese New Year
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.
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.
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.
The fasting month of Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam which all Muslims aim to adhere to. From sunrise to sunset no food or drink may be consumed, but in the evenings the Muslim areas of Singapore take on a very different, almost festive, atmosphere with food stalls of all descriptions providing delicious ways to break one’s fast.
This is a daytime tour exploring the important Malay and Muslim area of Kampong Glam, Singapore’s traditional Muslim quarter. The emphasis is on the history and traditions of Ramadan.
In the Malay Muslim world there are two Hari Rayas (the name means ”Important Day”) — Hari Raya Haji, which celebrates the Haj or pilgrimage season, and Hari Raya Puasa, which signifies the end of Ramadan.
Our tour will explore the fun-filled customs that signify the celebrations surrounding the end of a month of austerity.
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.
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.
Temples, Tiles & More
Telok Ayer (“Water Bay” in Malay) Street is also dubbed “Harmony Street” for its mix of religious houses of worship — Buddhist/Taoist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian. It was originally right on the water’s edge prior to early land reclamation, strategically located at the point when people needed to pray for, and give thanks for, safe passage to and from Singapore.
For all its modern Western appearance, Singapore is still a deeply Asian city in many ways. The practice of Feng Shui — which literally translates as "wind-water" in English — or geomancy, is often used to determine the design and location of commercial buildings as well as the interiors of our homes. Feng Shui is a essentially a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment, and is closely linked to Taoism.
Our tour will examine the way in which this belief system has influenced Singapore's architecture.
Many people wonder what takes place in a certain elegant and distinctive building in Coleman Street. Once they discover it's the Freemasons Hall in which many lodges meet, they will still have many more questions. First off, what is a freemason?
In fact freemasonry has been called many things (some untrue and unflattering), but, in short, it describes itself as a system of learning designed to make good men better men.
Freemasonry in Singapore officially began here in 1845 and the Hall was constructed in 1879.
Distinctive features set the Sikh community apart, and this small yet vibrant group has been an integral part of Singapore’s history since 1819. Famed as fierce warriors, Sikh men have traditionally held positions in the police force and as security guards. They are even spotted guarding the graves of some of Singapore’s Chinese and Peranakan founding fathers.
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Monkey God Festival
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.
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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.