Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Social Practices

Social customs, including religious and non-religious rituals, ceremonies and festivals that make up Singapore’s cultural diversity.

 

 

 


Purple and green floral cheongsam with cap sleeves

Cheongsam Tailoring

Cheongsams were popular among Chinese women in Singapore up to the 1960s. Today, they are mostly worn on special occasions such as Chinese New Year or for weddings.

 

 

Baju Kurong at Geylang Serai

Making and Wearing of the Baju Kurong

The traditional Malay costume is called the baju kurong, and it is worn both for formal occasions such as weddings and as informal, everyday wear.

 

 

Peranakan beaded slippers

Nyonya Beadwork and Embroidery

Nyonya beadwork and embroidery are craft forms associated with the Peranakan community, and are found in decorations for everyday household items, as well as more ornamental pieces for special occasions such as weddings.

 

 

Chin Woo Athletic Association in Singapore, which offers classes on lion dance and martial arts

Wushu

Wushu (武术), also known as Chinese martial arts, originated in China. It started out in Singapore as a sport within Chinese clan associations.

 

 

Silat Seni Gayong students in action at Kampong Ambar in Lorong Engku Aman, Singapore

Silat

Silat is a broad term that refers to a form of martial arts commonly practised in Southeast Asia.

 

 

Silambam practitioners in action

Silambam

Silambam is a form of martial art involving the act of fencing using a long staff, originating in ancient India.

 

 

Lion Dance

Lion Dance

Lion dance performances are common in Singapore during Chinese New Year and other Chinese cultural and religious festivals and are symbolic in bringing good fortune and luck to the people.

 

 

Tea Ceremony at Chinese Weddings

Chinese Weddings

A typical Chinese wedding in Singapore includes numerous traditional rituals that tend to vary according to dialect groups.

 

 

A Malay Wedding

Malay Weddings

Malay weddings are festive and celebratory affairs involving many relatives and friends, which continue to be deeply rooted in their cultural and religious elements.

 

 

Stamp featuring traditional Indian wedding costumes

Tamil Hindu Weddings

The wedding customs for the Indian community are wide-ranging, with diverse traditions within the different ethnic groups. Tamil Hindu weddings are one of the commonly observed wedding rituals by the Indian community in Singapore.

 

 

Stamp featuring traditional Eurasian wedding costumes

Eurasian Weddings

Many Singapore Eurasians are Catholics, and the wedding rites are performed by the church.

 

 

 

Devotees make their offerings on the eve of Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a festival observed by ethnic Chinese all over the world, including Singapore.

 

 

Ramadan bazaar at Geylang Serai

Hari Raya Puasa

Hari Raya Puasa is a major festival marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

 

 

 

Deepavali at Little India, Singapore, 2007.

Deepavali

Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, is a festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

 

 

Christmas Wreath on a Door

Christmas

Christmas is a festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, and is also a festival that is celebrated in a secular way in Singapore.

 

 

Traditionally-baked Mooncakes at Mid Autumn Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eight month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It is celebrated by the Chinese communities around the world.

 

 

Hari Raya Haji, 2013

Hari Raya Haji

Hari Raya Haji is a festival observed by Muslims which marks the end of the Haj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims embark on.

 

 

Hindu devotee carrying a kavadi

Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a religious festival of thanksgiving celebrated by Hindu devotees.

 

 

Easter as featured on a stamp in Singapore, issued by Singapore Post in 2008 to depict Singapore’s rich and vibrant multicultural heritage.

Easter

Easter is a Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie; 端午节 ) falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and is celebrated by Chinese communities worldwide.

 

 

Thimithi

Thimithi

Thimithi, also known as "fire walking", is a ceremony that is held in honour of Draupadi, an important female character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, who had proven her purity by walking barefoot across fire and emerging unharmed.

 

 

Kong Meng San on Vesak Day

Vesak Day

Vesak Day (Wesak Day), also referred to as "Buddha’s Birthday", is an annual religious festival celebrated by the two major Buddhist denominations in Singapore: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists.

 

 

'Qing Ming rituals in Singapore

Qing Ming Jie

During Qing Ming Jie (清明节), it is a tradition for the Chinese to visit cemeteries and columbaria to pay respects to their deceased family members as an expression of filial piety.

 

 

Pongal Bazaar at Campbell Lane

Pongal

Pongal is a harvest and thanksgiving festival in the Tamil month of Thai, and typically takes place in January.

 

 

Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations are typically held in heartland estates, where many Singaporeans reside

Zhong Yuan Jie

Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), also known as “Hungry Ghost Festival”, takes place on the seventh month of the Lunar calendar, and is mostly observed by Chinese Buddhists and Taoists.

 

 

Tua Pek Kong Temple at Kusu Island

Pilgrimage to Kusu Island

"Kusu Island" is located in the south west of Singapore. Annually, during the ninth month of the Lunar calendar, pilgrims visit the island to make offerings and seek blessings.

 

 

Chinese Puppetry

Chinese Puppetry

Traditional Chinese puppet performances are closely linked to Taoist and Chinese religious festivals, and there are variations across dialect groups.

 

 

A songkok made of velvet from mid to late 20th century

Making and Wearing of Songkok

Songkok is a traditional headgear commonly associated with and worn by males from the Malay community.

 

 

Photo of Maxwell Hawker Centre. Courtesy of Marshall Penafort.

Hawker Culture

Hawker culture in Singapore can be traced back to street hawkers and the hawker centres which were first built to resettle street hawkers in the 1970s.

 

 


We are currently conducting documentation work on the following elements. If you wish to contribute information on these elements, please visit this page.

  • Chinese Calligraphy
    Chinese calligraphy is the ancient art form of writing Chinese characters using a brush and black ink. There is a strong emphasis on technique, with apprentices copying the works of their masters repeatedly until they can produce perfect copies. There are many places offering calligraphy classes in Singapore, and some Chinese Singaporean families like to display calligraphy with poems or auspicious sayings in their homes.

  • Practices relating to sea deities
    Mazu (妈祖) is the most commonly worshipped sea deity. Chinese immigrants used to pray to her for safe voyages and many such temples were set up in Singapore. Today, celebrations for Mazu are common at temples such as Thian Hock Keng Temple. The temple organises lion dance performances, getai and traditional Hokkien string puppet shows for devotees as part of its annual celebrations on the birthday of Mazu.

  • Nine Emperor Gods Festival
    The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a Taoist festival celebrating the birthday of the Nine Human Sovereigns who are the sons of Dou Mu (斗姆). It is celebrated across temples in Singapore and the festival is known for its temple processions that take place during the celebrations.

  • Social Practices of Chinese Clan Associations
    Clan associations were established by Chinese immigrants to Singapore as venues for socialisation and to provide support to new immigrants. Some of the social practices of these associations include the celebration of major Chinese festivals, such as Chinese New Year, Qing Ming Jie, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival. These social practices still continue today, and some clan associations have even started to organise “heritage festivals” or “cultural events” as a means of promoting clan heritage to younger members.

  • Pawnshops
    Pawnshops have existed in Singapore since the colonial times, and they provide loans to people in return for items that are pledged to them. Some pawnshops have undergone an image overhaul and adopted a more modern look in order to draw younger customers.

  • Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
    Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which falls on the twelfth day of the third month in the Islamic calendar, is an important day to all Muslims, who are encouraged to spend it in quiet reflection by reading the Quran, the Islamic holy book. In Singapore, the occasion is commemorated through prayers and talks held at mosques to pay tribute to the life history of the Prophet.

  • Sepak Takraw
    Sepak takraw is a traditional game and sport where two competing teams will strive to keep a rattan ball in the air and kick it into their opponent’s court by using their feet, chest or head – without using their hands. It is a sport that is popular among countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is played competitively in schools in Singapore and at regional sporting events like the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

  • Making and Wearing of Traditional Indian Costumes
    Indian traditional costumes include items such as sari, kurta (straight-cut, loose-fitting top) and lehenga (long skirt). Traditionally, costumes such as sari would be worn for the first time when a girl was presented as a potential bride, but there are now variants in all the costumes such that they can be worn as daily wear, or for special occasions such as Deepavali. Most tailors who offer customised traditional outfits can be found in Little India.

  • Punarpusam Ratha Urchavam (Silver Chariot Procession)
    The Punarpusam Ratha Urchavam, or silver chariot procession, is part of Thaipusam. It involves carrying a statue of Lord Murugan between Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Saik Road. The ritual honours Lord Murugan’s triumph over the evil Asura (divine being) Soorapadman.

  • Chettiar Kitangi
    Chettiars are moneylenders from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They worked in a kitangi, or warehouse. In the past, chettiars would share one kitangi and each chettiar would be assigned their designated spots to conduct business. Chettiars provided funds and loans for various businesses in Singapore, such as rubber plantations and real estate. The Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road is popularly known as "Chettiars Temple" because the chettiars built it to honour Lord Murugan.

  • Getai
    Getai (歌台), meaning "song stage", refers to performances put up during Hungry Ghost Festival to entertain both the living and the dead. In the past, performances used to feature mostly Chinese opera performed in dialects. Over time, the repertoire for getai has evolved to include songs sung in English, Mandarin, dialects and even Korean.

  • Traditional Provision Shops
    Traditional provision shops are typically operated as family owned businesses and they serve the needs of the community around where they are located. In the past, provision shops often functioned as community hubs and provided easy access to daily provisions including sundry items, canned food, dried goods, newspapers and toys. While traditional provision shops have declined over the years due to the proliferation of supermarkets, mini-marts and online shopping, some of these shops can still be found in housing estates across Singapore.


The inventory will be a growing inventory where we will continue to add more intangible cultural heritage elements as well as more research and documentation materials over time.

As at April 2018, the inventory consists of research on 50 elements and more will be added progressively.