Cultural events in Singapore
Cultural events: Singapore’s calendar of annual events is a real mix of ancient and modern, with old, revered ritual pitted against the new and experimental.
In January, Hindus celebrate Thaipusam, a time of devotion, penance and thanksgiving; Muslims gather for festive shopping for Hari Raya Puasa, to prepare for the end of fasting; and the sheer volume of dominant Chinese outshines them all with their New Year celebrations. The Lunar New Year is the highlight of the Chinese calendar and the streets of Chinatown are lit up in January/February with traditional decorations and fairy lights. After dark, Chinatown becomes a heaving spectacle of the Orient, with hawkers and fortune tellers lining the alleyways as vibrantly coloured dragon and lion dancers parade among the crowds and Chinese opera takes to the streets.
The public holiday for Vesak Day, in May, honours the birth, enlightenment and death of Sakyamuni Buddha. Hundreds of caged birds are set free to symbolise the release of captive souls. The annual Singapore Dragon Boat Festival in June sends fishermen in search of the Chinese poet and patriot, Qu Yuan.
The month-long Festival of the Hungry Ghosts (August-September) is one of the biggest Chinese festivals. According to Taoist belief, the gates of hell are thrown open throughout the seventh month of the lunar year when spirits are allowed to wander the earth. To appease these homeless spirits, sumptuous banquets and ‘wayangs’ (Chinese street operas) are held, candles and joss-sticks are lit in a row in front of Chinese homes and hell currency notes are burnt as offerings.
However, the society’s younger generation are engaged in an array of performance and theatre arts that continually push the boundaries of this tightly governed island. Dance Space 2001, a month-long annual event in July showcases contemporary dance and experimental work by a host of performers, international and local. WOMAD takes over Fort Canning Park for three days in August. Another contemporary event, SEPTFEST 2001, an omnibus arts festival, features new works, while Theatre Fest 2001, at The Substation for a month from mid-November, gives new writers, performers and directors the chance to express themselves. The Singapore Film Festival, usually in April, continues to try and make cultural headway in a heavily censored society, which would rather give its attention to the Great Singapore Sale, the annual shopping bonanza, in July.
In celebration of the anniversary of Singaporean independence, a new anthem is composed every year and played incessantly in the month running up to the National Day Celebration on 9 August. A National Day Parade is held before thousands of spectators.
During the Lantern Festival in September, the Chinese Garden becomes a fairyland of light and colour as children and adults alike pour into the park with their paper lanterns.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali is a Hindu celebration held in October/November to mark the victory of light over darkness and of good over evil. Little India, especially the Hindu temples of Sri Veerama Kaliamman, Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman and Sri Srinivasa Perumal, is decorated with fairy lights, garlands and colourful arches.