Singapore Festivals in 2016

If you didn’t manage to squeeze Singapore into your recent year-end vacation, you’ll be glad to know that Christmas is not the only time to enjoy the festivities in Singapore.  Thanks to our multi-cultural and multi-racial society, we celebrate many festivals round the year.  So if you’re visiting Singapore in 2016, here are three of my favourite festivals to plan your trip around.

Thaipusam
24 January 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

The first key festival of the year, Thaipusam is celebrated by Tamils to commemorate the day Parvati (the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion) gave Murugan (the god of war) a divine javelin to slay the demon Soorapadman.  During this two-day festival, Hindus fulfil vows, offer thanks and seek blessings for the year ahead.

If you’ve never witnessed Thaipusam, it’ll certainly be an eye-opener.  In Singapore, the celebration begins on the eve, with a colourful chariot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.

And at the crack of dawn the next day, devotees will walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.  Women will carry a pot of milk to symbolise fertility and abundance, and men will balance kavadis, chanting hymns and playing music along the way.  Some devotees balance towering kavadis on their shoulders, while others may carry spiked kavadis that pierce the body and tongue and weigh more than 30 kg!  In other words, these processions are nothing short of spectacular.

Lunar New Year
8-9 February 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Also known as the Spring Festival, this is the first and most important day on the Chinese calendar.  Legend has it that the mythical beast Nian had been eating villagers until a visiting god revealed that the beast was afraid of the colour red and loud noises.  Since then, the Chinese have worn red clothes, hung red lanterns and scrolls, and set off firecrackers on this special occasion to ward off the beast.

In our modern society, Lunar New Year is simply a time to celebrate family, friends, good fortune and great food.  On the eve of Lunar New Year, family members from near and far will gather to share the most important meal of the year – the Reunion Dinner.

The following days will be spent visiting relatives and friends, and the littles ones will receive red packets stuffed with money.  The highlight for me, however, is the delicious snacks such as bak kwa (sweet barbequed meat), pineapple tarts and shrimp rolls served at these gatherings.  If you’re invited to visit a friend during Lunar New Year, take the opportunity to sample everything you’re served!  And don’t forget to bring a pair of mandarin oranges for your hosts – these are symbols of good luck!

Festivities begin a month before Lunar New Year, so visit Chinatown for the street light-up, festive markets and lion dances.  Or, watch the Chingay Parade, the largest multi-cultural street performance and float parade in Asia on 19 and 20 February!

Hari Raya Aidilfitri
6 July 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

For the Muslim community in Singapore, this is one most important festivals.  As you know, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and devote their time to worship and charitable deeds.  This special day marks the end of fasting.

Also known as Hari Raya Puasa of Eid, it is a day of joyous celebration.  Families will put on bright new clothes and head to the mosque for special prayers.  They then spend the day visiting their parents, elders and relatives.

If you’re invited to a Hari Raya meal, you’re in for a rare treat.  Nothing beats home-cooked beef rendang and chicken rendang, spicy stews that will whet your appetite.  I’m also addicted to homemade sambal (chilli paste), as well as traditional cakes!

In fact, you don’t have to wait for an invite during Hari Raya Aidilfitri to enjoy these irresistible Malay dishes.  Geylang Serai offers a wide variety of mains and snacks, and they may be enjoyed even before Hari Raya Aidilfitri during the month of Ramandan!  Since I personally love spicy food, these are some of my greatest guilty indulgences.

For more information on festivals celebrated in Singapore, speak to your personal assistant at Capella Singapore.

5 Top Festive Experiences In Singapore

Christmas always fills me with a sense of child-like wonder.  The nights twinkle with fairy lights and soft jazz drifts through the air.  It’s a magical season.  This year, I’ve picked my five favourite festive experiences that you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Singapore.

Enchanted Gardens

GBB2

High on my list this year is Gardens by the Bay, where toys and childhood fantasies come to life.  The gardens have been carpeted with poinsettia, Christmas rose, winter heather and holly; and towering over these yuletide florals is an 11-metre tall pyramid decked with toys.

To add to the sense of festive magic, the Supertree Grove also features a Spiegeltent (a century-old travelling ‘mirror tent’ from the Netherlands); and hosts a European-style festive market with Christmas gifts and delicious food.

Don’t miss the nightly light shows at the Supertrees that are now synced with beautiful festive tunes; as well as the series of ‘live’ performances on the multi-tiered traditional German wooden carousel at the Flower Field.  Look out for classical opera, stand-up comedians, string quartets and Enid Blyton storytelling.  Schedule here.

The Iridescent River

Singapore River

Always alit with soft shimmering lights, The Singapore River is peaceful during weekdays, and a bustling hub of activities on weekends.  It’s one of my favourite places for an evening stroll in Singapore.

This Christmas, it comes to life with a luminous forest of LED-lit tree-like structures from Robertson Quay to Boat Quay.  Christmas carollers and roving festive troopers will also add to the merriment on specific days of the week.  I’m really looking forward to the Artisan Pop Up Christmas Market at Clarke Quay’s Central Fountain Square from 5-7 December, and the fireworks display on 12 and 26 December at 9pm!

Party Under The Stars

Picture by www.yoursingapore.com

Picture by www.yoursingapore.com

December always puts me in a party mood, and Zouk Out is arguably one of the best dance festivals in the region.  Last year alone, this sunrise beach festival welcomed more than 50,000 revellers from Singapore and around the world.

Besides a diverse and electrifying line-up of techno, trance, indie-electronic and hip-hop music, festival-goers can also expect ‘live’ performances, art installations, costumed buskers, food stalls, fireworks and endless fun from dusk to dawn.  Zouk Out will take place from 11-12 December.

Christmas Movie Magic

Picture by www.rwsentosablog.com

Picture by www.rwsentosablog.com

If you love Christmas blockbusters as much as I do, here’s a chance to spend the yuletide season with your favourite characters.  Universal Studios Singapore‘s programme this year is nothing short of amazing.

Catch the Sesame Street Saves Christmas Show, Dancing Christmas Light Show, Fairytale Remix Show, and other festive performances featuring beloved characters such as the Penguins of Madagascar, Marilyn Monroe, toy soldiers and Scrooge.  Plus, it’s one of the few places to experience snow in Singapore, and catch a dazzling display of fireworks on 12, 19 and 29 December.

#5 Cuban Festival in Singapore

_MTC8413

One of the things I love best about travel is experiencing festivals around the world.  And this year, Capella Singapore re-creates a Cuban festival under the stars – El Ritmo de la Noche – for its New Year’s Eve Party.

Watch aerial performers whiz across the night sky, as well as fire dances, stilt walkers and magicians.  In the tradition of the best Latin American parties, a ‘live’ Cuban band Havana Social Club will also serenade you as you welcome 2016 with the finest champagne.  Join me on 31 December from 10pm!

For more exciting festive experiences around Singapore or Sentosa, speak to your personal assistants at Capella Singapore.

 

 

Oktoberfest In Dusseldorf

“O’zapft is!”  It is that time of year!

What am I talking about?  Oktoberfest!  And “O’zapft is!”  is traditional opener to the festivities.  This is from the Bavarian dialect and means that the first keg of the season has been tapped.

You have probably heard about the traditional German Oktoberfest at least once, right? Then you might know that Munich is especially famous for this celebration. While the Bavarian festivities remain the largest, other events are cropping up throughout Germany.  And as the jovial mood spreads, I think it only fitting that I share my experience from the inaugural Dusseldorf celebration held just last year.

rsz_dsc_5497

I’ve been a huge fan of the Oktoberfest for many years and when I heard that the tradition had arrived in my beautiful hometown, I could not believe it. So what did I do? Of course I put on my best Dirndl and jumped into the festivities to see if the Rhenish people could keep up with the Bavarians. And let me tell you: It was definitely a success! I particularly liked the location that was chosen for the Oktoberfest in Dusseldorf. It takes place at the Rhine Promenade, where I also like to spend most of my spare time.

I started my day with a delicious pretzel, Bavarian veal sausage with sweet mustard and, most importantly, a freshly tapped Mass.  A Mass is a huge glass jug, which contains one liter of beer.  It is common to drink these throughout the Oktoberfest celebrations, beginning with breakfast and continuing throughout the day.  There is even a traditional song that encourages drinkers to clink their Mass with those around them.  It seems the song is played just about every five minutes, so it is important to have a Mass in hand!

Another fun aspect is seeing everyone dressed in traditional clothes.  The men wear leather trousers known as Lederhosen, a plaid shirt and sometimes also those cute hats with feathers on top. The women wear my personal favorite, the Dirndl. The Dirndl consists of a blouse, with a dress consisting of a corset top and full skirt topped with an apron. You can find it in every color and pattern. The Dirndl is a figure hugging dress that seems to make every woman look her best! The women top of the look with braids in every style.

But the Dirndl does more than set the tone of the event- it can also communicate the relationship status of the wearer.  If you wear the apron knot on the left side, it means you are single, on the right it means you are in a relationship.  Knots on the back suggest you are widowed (unless you are working as a waitress!) and in the front the knot means you are married.  Who would have guessed an apron could say so much?!

You are now perfectly prepped for a visit to Dusseldorf’s Oktoberfest.  This year celebrations started on September 19th and goes for about two weeks. So be sure to make your plans today!  Your Breidenbacher Hof Personal Assistant will help you make it the perfect vacation.

 

Atlzazilistle: The Jaguar Fight Rain Ritual

I love Mexican traditions, and if you’ve read my previous posts, we have plenty of them!  Recently I learned about an amazing tradition, unique to our state Guerrero.  It is a rain ritual and I would love to share it with you.

Atlzazilistle (or the Jaguar fight rain ritual) is a petition for rain and fertility.  The festival takes place in the village Acatlán, about 6 hours from Ixtapa.  Each year the events begins with the blessing of the seeds on April 25, and the climax of the celebrations arrives in early May with festivities organized by the hosts and community authorities.

During the festival people offer birds, flowers, food, copal and wax figures at various hills and sacred places.  One of the most interesting and picturesque rituals happens on May 2, with staged fights among various masked figures.  Early in the morning the tlacololeros (men in masks, jute suits and with whips) visit mayordomo at his home, where they offer him pozole and mezcal as an invitation to the ceremonies and a signal of the start of the ritual.

"Jaguar Dance" by Susan Contreras.

“Jaguar Dance” by Susan Contreras.

After this, the entire community gathers at the church, where the tlacololeros, the cotlatlastin (men of the wind) and tecuanis (men dressed as a jaguar) are presented.  The church music is played by teponaxtli (a slit drum made of hollow hardwood logs) and the chirimía (a wooden flute), while the church bells formally announce the start of the festivities.  At that moment tecuanis (people dressed as jaguars) gather in groups of 22 and begin to fight.  This part of the ritual aims to bring rain and good crops, as it is an ancient belief that “The more the tecuanis (jaguars) fight, the more rain falls.”

The fights continue to the next day, when participants march to the top of a sacred hill Cerro del Cruzco.  This is the climax of the offering to the earth (huentli) to bring rains and good crops.

During the festivities each of the tecuanis keeps complete anonymity.  They dress and groom alone so their opponents – who can be their friends or even family – don’t recognize them. The tecuani use a skin mask made by craftsmen of Acatlán.  They are amazingly beautiful and considered a master craft, and can sell for hundreds of US dollars.

This tradition has been passed from generation to generation, and it is believed that every stroke of a wrestler over another is a prayer for good rain and good soil.

This is quite the festival!  And I look forward to seeing the results from this year’s harvest.

Pelea De Jaguares: Un Ritual Para La Lluvia

Me encantan las tradiciones mexicanas, y como han podido leer en mis anteriores artículos, ¡tenemos muchas de ellas! Recientemente aprendí sobre una sorprendente tradición, única de nuestro estado de Guerrero, y me gustaría compartirla con ustedes.

El Atlzazilistle (o Peleas Jaguar para el ritual de la lluvia) es una petición de lluvia y fertilidad. El festival tiene lugar en el pueblo de Acatlán, a 6 horas en carretera de Ixtapa. Cada año el evento inicia con la bendición de las semillas el 25 de Abril, y el clímax de las celebraciones llega a inicio de Mayo con las fiestas organizadas por los “mayordomos” y autoridades de la comunidad.

Durante el festival la gente ofrece aves, flores, comida, copal y figuras de cera en varios cerros y lugares sagrados. Uno de los rituales más interesantes y pintorescos sucede en 2 de Mayo, con escenas de peleas entre varios personajes enmascarados. En la madrugada los “tlacololeros” (hombres ataviados en máscaras, trajes de yute y latigos) visitan al mayordomo en su casa, donde se les ofrece pozole y mezcal como bienvenida y señal de inicio de el ritual.

"Jaguar Dance" by Susan Contreras.

“Jaguar Dance” by Susan Contreras.

Después de esto, toda la comunidad se junta en la iglesia, donde los tlacololeros, los “cotlatlastin” (hombres del viento) y los “tecuanis” (hombres vestidos de jaguar) son presentados. La música en la iglesia se toca con “teponaxtli” (un tambor prehispánico hecho con troncos huecos) y la “chirimía” (flauta de madera), mientras las campanas anuncian el comienzo de las festividades. En ese momento los tecuanis se organizan en grupos de 22 y comienzan a pelear. Esta parte del ritual busca atraer lluvia y buenas cosechas, ya que como marca la antigua creencia “Mientras más pelean los tecuanis (jaguares), más lluvia cae.”

Las peleas duran hasta el siguiente día, cuando los participantes se dirigen a la cima del Cerro del Cruzco. este es el punto más alto de la ofrenda a la tierra (huentli) lo cual traerá lluvias y buenas cosechas.

Durante los festejos cada uno de los tecuanis conserva completo anonimato. Se visten y preparan en solitario, para que sus contrincantes, que pueden ser incluso sus amigos o familia, no los reconozcan. El tecuani usa una máscara de piel endurecida creada por los artesanos de Acatlán. Son sorprendentemente bellas y consideradas una artesanía muy fina, e incluso se pueden vender por miles de pesos.

Esta tradición ha pasado de generación en generación, y se cree que cada golpe de uno de los peleadores (tecuanis) a otro es una plegaria para atraer la lluvia y la tierra fértil.

¡Vaya que es una festividad! Y espero pronto ver los resultados de la cosecha de este año.

A Visit To Washington D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival

Earlier this month Washington D.C. began the spring celebration of the 101st National Cherry Blossom Festival!  Hundreds and thousands of visitors from all over the world attended this special two week event that began on March 20th and ended April 14th.  During this period I had the chance to watch each cherry bud grow into flowering pieces of art on my way to work.  It was during the days of the peek bloom when I had the opportunity to actually walk through the Tidal Basin, taking photos; admiring the beauty of the trees and interviewing a few Cherry Blossom visitors!

Over two thousand cherry trees arrived in Washington, D.C. as a gift from Tokyo on January 6, 1910.   I could see the remarkable difference between the stunning ancient tree trunks of the original trees versus the more recently planted saplings.  After speaking with one of the ladies at the help desk, she said this season was particularly wonderful because of the great weather during peak bloom.  The cherry blossom trees bloom when the weather reaches above 70 degrees.  But it is the evening time that can’t be missed, as that is when the flowers truly start to flourish.

Cherry Blossom Festival

Capella Washington D.C., Georgetown is located less than 3 miles from the Cherry Blossom Festival, making it the perfect destination for springtime.  I look forward to next years events!  If you join us during the Cherry Blossom Festival be sure to let your Personal Assistant help plan the experience for you.

 

Photo Credit, Sarah Corneal