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HongBao River Festival

Hongbao River Festival also known as “Spring Festival by River” was celebrated for nine days from 6th February to 14th February.  This is the 30th anniversary since it started in the year 1986.  The event was held on Marina Bay Floating Platform and Esplanade Waterfront Promenade.  The term “Hong Bao” also means monetary gift wrapped in red envelope usually given on Chinese New Year or any other auspicious events.  This was the first event to mark the beginning of Chinese New Year (Year of Monkey).  Singapore is full of celebrations and events during this period. Event after event, be it Hongbao, Chinese New Year @ China Town, Lion Dance Medley, Chingay, I was trying to register each one of them.  Even my blogging took a back seat as it was difficult for me to write on so many topics happening in a span of fifteen days.

We went on the first day when the event was inaugurated at night. People just poured into the area.  Day 1 was always crowded as it also was an opportunity to see the prime minister of Singapore face to face.  We entered the main entrance of the event.  When you enter the main arch lit with bright lights, you notice a red rhombus shaped logo above River Hongbao.  The logo is derived from the Chinese Character for Spring.  The diagonal calligraphy and curvy waves indicate prosperity and happiness for everyone in the beginning of the new year.  When you enter inside, cheerful monkeys greet you with their mischievous brilliant flashes of smile hanging around the peach trees.

Entrance River Hongbao Festival

Entrance Gate

Heading further you see a tall statue brightly lit. Any Guesses? Its not Ravan!

God of Fortune

God of Fortune Back View

Its the God of Fortune. Chinese worship the god of prosperity and every new year they hang a picture of the god for blessings of great luck and wealth.  The best part of the event was every hour the  god of fortune showers wealth (not literally) and the whole crowd waits to grab the fortune.  It is considered as luck if you are bestowed upon by the god himself.  It was a delight to watch the expressions of the crowd when the clock was nearing the fortune time.  The fortune was merely gold flakes, but people were excited to grab it when it started.

Fortune Shower

Battle of Fortune 1

The moment the shower started people blindly rushed to the place to collect as much as gold flakes as possible. Few of them even got unfair and opened their umbrellas to collect more.  It almost looked like an umbrella fight poking each other to get the best deal.  Ouch!

Battle of Fortune 2

Umbrella Fight

Once the shower stopped, they turned to check their umbrellas to see how much they collected ?  The best thing was even if you played unfair still you may turn to be unlucky as the gold flakes follow the direction of the wind.  It was a funny sight to watch.  I noticed a boy running amidst the crowd like a mouse hoping to get few flakes for him.  But alas the look of his face told that he didn’t manage to get one.

Fortune Shower Battle 1

Sad Child

I also noticed a couple patiently waiting for each shower till they get the flakes.  At last when they got few of them they were so happy that the old man jumped like a kid.  They carefully wrapped the flakes as if it was a child in a napkin and walked away.  An interesting thing to notice was people don’t pick the flakes fallen on the ground.

Old Couple

 Gold Flakes on Ground

There were other huge lantern displays like Chinese Chessboard, lanterns depicting multicultural ethos of Singapore, heavenly peach banquet,Singapore Flyer and 12 zodiac signs

As its the year of monkey, the mural wall showed the journey to the west and story of monkey king’s battle using gold banded red rod. One could also notice to the right of god of fortune, a tall statue of monkey king sitting stylishly watching the entire event.  Gandhi’s three monkeys with the phrase “Hear no Evil”, “Speak no Evil” and “See no Evil” stood in front of the monkey king.

mural wall.jpg

3 monkeys

We saw the prime minister of Singapore Lee Hsein Loong inaugurating the event and addressing the audience.


Towards the end there were many stalls of street food counter.  Laksa, Kebabs, Ramly burgers, Sticky Mango Rice, Fried Ice Cream, Rice Pudding, Twist Potato, Vadai and many more.  Fried Ice Cream Litchi flavor melted in my mouth ! Food was delicious and the selection was best of the best.

For children there were amusement rides like walking dinosaurs, water play, arcade games and so on.


It seems god of fortune was not the only person to try your luck.  They also had a wishing well. You throw the coin and if it hits any of the bells, your wish will be fulfilled. At least somebody’s wish will be fulfilled as the other end will be fortunate to collect those coins! There was a barricade across the wishing well and people were struggling to hit the bell leaning on top of it.

From 8 pm to 10 pm they had performances every night.  The first night I heard an artist dressed in weird golden outfit sing a song which I had heard in a cab during my Malaysia visit.  I loved the song the first time I heard. The beauty of the song is the tune is so simple yet it just plays on and on in your head after you hear it.  Two years later, the same song played before me and then I came to know that its the famous Chinese New Year song.  I recorded few portions of the song.


There was one thing without which any Singaporean major event would not be complete.  Fireworks!  Combination of lasers, fire blown into the air and fire works all together made the entire area mesmerizing.  Few minutes later an ordinary looking village fair with just lanterns and lights was transformed into an area with electromagnetic spectrum. Sparks and lights everywhere!




The fair continued for nine days. I attended the first day and thought that the crowd might subside in the next consecutive days.  I decided to check the event on the eighth day and was surprised to see the amount of people still waiting for the fortune god to shower.  I was amazed by the energy levels of the crowd. Street food counters were still busy, few of them ran out of their stocks and had to shut down early.  People loitered lazily and waited for the 9 pm fire works.   I could sense the energy, joy and happiness of the people and within me while walking amongst the crowd in Hong Bao River Festival.

Copyright ©2016, Lakshmi Nair . This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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