Daily Life :: Festivals & Celebrations

Chinese New Year is a 3-day holiday but festivities last 15 days.

On the eve, family members gather for a reunion dinner which must feature foods with symbolic meanings such as ...
  • fa cai = seaweed that looks like black hair
    phonetically sounds like "to prosper"

  • bao yu = abalone
    phonetically sounds like "guaranteed surplus" in Mandarin

  • hou si = dried oysters
    phonetically sounds like "fortunate situation" in Cantonese
After the reunion dinner, family members would gather and interact. Many Chinese visit jammed-pack Chinatown to soak in the festive atmosphere and shop for last-minute bargains of festive goods.

Over the next two days, relatives and friends visit each other bearing tangerines as a gesture of good fortune. Children and singles receive "hong baos", red packets of "lucky money".

Chingay Procession
During the festive season, yusheng is eaten especially on the 7th day which is deemed the "Birthday of Man" - the creation of man. Family members gather around the dish and, on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying out loud auspicious phrases.

The exuberant Chingay Procession is held on the Sunday following Chinese New Year. It features floats and dance performances not only by local troupes but foreign ones as well. The 15th day is observed as the close of the festive season.

Hungry Ghosts' Festival
Hungry Ghosts' Festival is to appease wandering spirits so that they do not wreck havoc on earth. It is believed that the gates of hell are open throughout the 7th lunar month and ghosts roam freely on earth. During this period, offerings of food, and burnt offerings of paper money and paper replicas of items such as houses, cars and clothes are made to appease the ghosts. These offerings are made in the streets at night, in the hope that the ghosts would be appeased and would not enter their homes and cause disturbances within.

The festival is organised by a neighbourhood Seventh Month committee formed by various interest groups such as residents, merchants and temples. The traditional festivities kick off with a lavish Chinese dinner for the residents in the neighbourhood, followed by a wayang (Chinese opera) or getai (literally "song-stage" or song performances) to entertain the ghosts and the living. The auction of auspicious items such as urns, crystal ornaments, rice, pineapple, charcoal ("black gold") is also held to bring better luck to successful bidders. The main reason for the auction is to raise funds for charity and next year's festival.

As ghosts are believed to dominate events during this period, the 7th lunar month is considered inauspicious for weddings, buying property, moving house and business launches.

On the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, the Chinese pay respect to their deceased relatives ... praying and making offerings of food and paper money for their needs in the afterlife.

Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It is also known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival.

Chinatown and the Chinese Garden will be lighted up with an array of lanterns manually constructed by professional lantern-makers from China. Battery-powered lanterns in all shapes and sizes are sold in shops. Some neighbourhoods organise lantern brigades at night where children walk in a procession with lanterns in their hands.

Shops, restaurants and hotels come up with moon cakes with a variety of flavours and fillings ... durian, cheese, bird's nest with custard, lingzhi, pistachios, macadamia nuts, chocolate, etc ... in attractive packaging.

Vesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. On this day, Buddhist monks in the temples chant holy verses. Devotees pour perfumed water over the statue of Buddha, pray and make offerings. They also release captive animals as a sign of respect for all living things. Buddhists eat only vegetarian food on this day and some temples prepare a vegetarian meal for their devotees.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri (pronounced HAH-ree RYE-ah ih-dih-FIT-rih) marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise until sunset. Many Muslims gather at Geylang Serai to break fast because many stalls line the streets with a wide spread of traditional delicacies and other food.

Muslims usually attend prayers in the mosque in the morning. It is also customary to seek forgiveness from family members for wrongs done and make new resolutions. People, dressed in their very best, visit relatives and friends to exchange well wishes.

Deepavali (pronounced dee-PAH-vah-lee), also known as the "festival of lights", is a Hindu holiday. Homes are lit with lamps to celebrate the victory of light (good) over darkness (evil). The streets in Little India are decorated with attractive lights and garlands.

On Deepavali day, Indians start the day by taking an oil bath and offering prayers. This is followed by a visit to the temple and to the homes of relatives and friends. Deepavali is an especially happy time for children, because of the social visits and sweet treats.

Thaipusam is celebrated by Hindus to give thanks and make amends for wrongdoings. Some devotees practise self-mortification by piercing their tongues, cheeks and bodies with metal hooks and spikes. These are attached to a large metal frame known as kavadi which they carry on their shoulders. They then walk in a procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, accompanied by chanting supporters.