Sunday, April 06, 2008

3 Must-See Festivals in Singapore

With its multi-ethnic population, Singapore celebrates a myriad of festivals throughout the year. If you plan on visiting Singapore, you'll enjoy mingling with the locals during these festivals. Here are 3 festivals in Singapore which visitors would not want to miss.

Thaipusam Festival (moving date, January or February):

Thaipusam is a festival to honor the Hindu deity, Lord Subramaniam. It is a time for Hindus to perform acts of penance or to give thanks for answered prayers.

In the weeks leading to Thaipusam, devotees spend up to a month praying and fasting. When the day arrives, friends and family help to load a cage-like steel frame onto the devotee's body. This frame, which is also called a kavadi, may weigh up to 30kg! It is elaborately decorated with images of Hindu deities and peacock feathers.

Now, if you think this is some weight training of sorts, think again. From the frame of the kavadi, numerous spikes extend inwards into the devotee's flesh. Then, there are the skewers that go through the devotee's cheeks and tongue. As if this is not enough, oversized fish hooks cling precariously to the devotee's back. Quite amazingly, nobody cringes and nobody bleeds!

Then, just when you think that the man has been punished enough, he goes on a 4km procession with all these punctures on his body, often skipping and dancing along the way! Should you be in Singapore at this time, don't miss Thaipusam. See it to believe it.

Chinese New Year (moving date, January or February):

Chinese New Year is probably the most loved Chinese festival. It originated in China, where it is also called the Spring Festival because farming communities traditionally 'welcome the Spring'. In modern times, it is a season to put the past behind and look forward to the future.

In Singapore, Chinese families begin the celebrations by shopping for Chinese New Year goodies and decorations.

In the 3 or 4 weeks leading to Chinese New Year's Day, the streets of Chinatown bustle with roadside stalls and throngs of shoppers. You know that the season has arrived when you see those quaint Chinese lanterns start to hang from buildings. If you are in town, remember also to check out the acrobats at Telok Ayer Square. See them bend, contort and perform stunts to rapturous applause.

Apart from the usual reunion dinner and visits to friends and relatives, Chinese Singaporeans look forward to the River Hong Bao Carnival.

Held at the Esplanade Park, the River Hong Bao is a place to see age-old Chinese beliefs in action. Look out for the incredibly huge lanterns representing the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Around the Golden Tree of Wishes, the locals make their wishes and then throw coins at the Tree for good luck. Watch and be amused, or join in the fun, for all the money collected is donated to charity.

Then when you have had your fill, head for the Esplanade Bridge to enjoy the fireworks display.

The Orchard Road Christmas Light Up (Mid-November to End of December):

For more than 20 years now, the Orchard Road Christmas Light Up has captivated both locals and visitors to Singapore. In fact, 20% of visitors at the Christmas Light Up are repeat visitors.

If you head down to Orchard Road during this time, you will obviously find the usual Christmas fare - dramas and carols performed by church groups.

But perhaps you will be most enchanted by the Christmas lights. Uncountable fairy lights, bells and baubles hang over Singapore's main shopping belt. They adorn the entire 5km stretch from Orchard Road to Marina Bay. Take a ride on an open-top double-decker bus, or watch from the road-side as the Christmas floats make their way through this Fairyland of sorts. It'll remind you of that first visit to Disneyland and its magical Parade of Floats.

If you come from the Northern Hemisphere, this is a great chance to experience Christmas with a difference, right in the warmth of the Tropics.


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