One of the best things about living in Singapore is having the opportunity to observe and experience so many religious and cultural festivals and holidays, thanks to the many races that call Singapore home.
In part one of this guide, we learnt about New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year, Good Friday, Labour Day, and Vesak Day. Now that we’re in part two, we’ll be looking at Hari Raya Puasa, National Day, Hari Raya Haji, Deepavali, and Christmas Day.
Hari Raya Puasa
A religious holiday celebrated all over the world by Muslims is Hari Raya Puasa, also commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Eid al-Fitr, or just Raya. It is a common misconception that Hari Raya Puasa is the Muslim New Year — in actual fact, it marks the conclusion of Ramadan, which is a month where Muslims fast as a way of commemorating the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Through fasting, Muslims believe that a person will develop self-control and can help them to better empathize with the poor and less fortunate by helping them to appreciate what is bestowed upon them.
The celebrations are grand festivities. Similar to how the Chinese people prepare for Chinese New Year, Muslim families will thoroughly spring-clean their homes and buy new clothes — traditional Malay attire like the baju kurung and baju melayu. Food is also prepared, with mouth-watering Malay dishes like rendang and lontong, as well as snacks like kueh lapis and pineapple tarts.
On the first day of Raya, families visit mosques to pray before travelling and visiting relatives. Aside from the feasting and fellowship, it is also a time when family members seek forgiveness from one another for any wrong-doings or ill feelings. Green packets with money are also given to children and young adults, as Muslims are encouraged to be generous during this period.
Singapore’s National Day is celebrated every year on the 9th of August. It commemorates the occasion when Singapore separated from Malaysia back in 1965 and became an independent, sovereign state on its own. A parade is typically held at either the National Stadium, the Padang, or more commonly used nowadays, the Float @ Marina Bay.
Marching contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, different labour unions, and students in uniformed groups are the first segment, followed with displays by the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force, and the Republic of Singapore Navy. Cultural performances continue throughout the evening, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display that lights up the entire night sky.
Hari Raya Haji
First of all, Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa are not the same. As mentioned above, Hari Raya Puasa is a celebration of the end of Ramadan. Hari Raya Haji, on the other hand, is an occasion which marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the Islamic holy city. Also known as Hari Raya Aidiladha or Eid al-Adha, Muslims celebrate it to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim and his faith — he was commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Ismail, and Ibrahim did not hesitate. To reward his great faith, God stopped him from killing his son, and instead provided a sheep to be sacrificed instead.
This is why during Hari Raya Haji, Muslims perform a korban ritual, or sacrifice, by slaughtering livestock like sheep and goats in mosques — to remind themselves of Ibrahim’s faith and how they should all strive to be like him. The meat from the animals is then given to worshippers, or cooked to provide meals for the needy.
Also known as Diwali, this Hindu celebration happens every autumn in the Hindu calendar, which means it usually happens in November or December. Known as the festival of lights, Deepavali celebrates the “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. Hindu families also clean and refurbish their homes, and they light oil lamps and brighten the house with Rangoli decorations, which are artwork on the floor made using coloured sand, flower petals, or rice. These decorations are meant to welcome the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, into their homes.
In Singapore, the roads at Little India are decorated with impressive and colourful light fixtures, which can be a real sight to behold. Little India itself becomes a bustling hub of activity, with the Deepavali Festival Village bazaar and market selling everything from festive food and treats, to traditional Indian costumes and accessories.
December 25th each year marks Christmas Day, a holiday that everyone enjoys. Santa Claus and his reindeer, Christmas carols, presents, good food — these are all the common associations with Christmas, but did you know Christmas is actually a religious celebration?
Celebrated by the Christians, Christmas Day marks the birth of Jesus Christ, who is regarded as the saviour of the world, according to the Bible. Christmas Eve is an important time for Christian families, as they put on their fanciest clothes and attend midnight mass in church. Christmas Day itself consists of feasting with relatives and friends, and presents are given to one another. The holiday itself is all about spreading joy and love to the world and everyone around you — it’s no wonder why the greeting used during this festive period is “Merry Christmas”.