This weekend, a spectacular explosion of colour and rhythm will invade the F1 Pit Building as the Chingay Parade, Asia’s grandest street and floats parade, moves into the venue.
And as the mainstay favourite stilt walkers, pugilistic performers, and lion dancers strut and prance down the Parade, Firecracker Dragons from China will commemorate Chingay Parade’s new home in a fiery, dazzling display as they writhe and manoeuvre between lighted strings of firecrackers.
The word Chingay dates back to 19th century Penang and is a phonetic rendition in Hokkien for the art of costume and masquerade. It first appeared to describe Chinese historical scenes carried on men's shoulders in a religious parade, but has since shed its religious significance to become a celebration of colour and creativity.
Chingay came to Singapore in 1973 after a fatal accident the year before prompted the government to ban firecrackers. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew suggested that a parade, like the one in Penang, might help make up for people's disappointment at the lack of noise over Chinese New Year by introducing a spectacle with lots of noise and colour.
When the Parade was first launched, its route plied along the major Chinese settlements of Jalan Besar to Outram Park. For a decade after, it toured different housing estates where residents, young and old, would eagerly anticipate the Parade.
Since 1985, barring a period when the route was diverted to the City Hall area, the Chingay Parade has marched down Singapore’s main shopping thoroughfare, Orchard Road, in a dazzling procession celebrating Singapore’s multiculturalism with the Chinese New Year festivities as a backdrop.
In 1990, to celebrate 25 years of Singapore’s independence, Chingay became an evening-to-night event. Glittering, sparkling floats decked out in fairy lights, sequinned costumes and light displays became part of the spectacular night parade.
Now in its 38th year, a lucky number by Chinese reckoning, the Chingay Parade moves into Marina Bay, the most energetic precinct at the heart of Singapore.
From the first performance where 2,000 Chinese stilt-walkers, big-headed dolls, pugilistic groups, mini operas, lion and dragon dancers and flag bearers demonstrated their prowess to the crowds, Singapore’s Chingay Parade has evolved into one of the most exciting international events in Southeast Asia.
Although Chingay continues to be steeped in the tradition of Chinese New Year festivities, it is hardly an exclusively Chinese one. The Parade embraced the other racial groups of Singapore as early as 1976, the first being a Malay wedding and kompang item.
Costumes have become more elaborate, and the flavour, although lion and dragon dancers and other traditional Chinese acts continue to this day, is multi-ethnic. Since 2000, exotic performances from far-flung lands such as Brazil, Ghana and Tahiti have found themselves part of the Parade, reflecting Singapore’s growing multicultural diversity.
There will also be the inaugural Chingay Passion Pasar carnival, which features plenty of fun activities, great food and exciting performances for one and all.
This year, over 5,000 overseas and local performing groups will entertain a sold-out crowd of 36,000 revellers. Set to be a “People’s Parade”, public participation is encouraged through designing of art banners to be displayed on lampposts in the Marina Bay area and Orchard Road and online voting for the best float.
Those who can’t get tickets to the Parade can literally dance their way in.
This year, the island’s largest-ever Samba segment, with at least 2,000 people taking part from organisations representing the different communities in Singapore, will perform. The public can join as part of this sashaying contingent by downloading an entry form from the official Chingay website (www.chingay.org.sg), and handing it in two hours prior to the parade.
After a quick crash course on Samba dancing, even those with little dancing experience can bust some moves as part of the Parade.
Those who want to bring the party deep into the night will revel in City Alive, Singapore’s largest street party to be held after the Chingay Parade.
Featuring a line-up of international performers such as such as DJs Space Cowboy and Sarasa and b-boys All Area Crew, as well as local performers Radikal Forze, the organizers have hinted that there will be a big surprise to kick-start the party.
All images courtesy of the People's Association.