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Merry (same, same) Christmas

by December 24, 2016 General

DECEMBER 25 — This is the best time of the year. The entire world slows down and it feels festive in my city. Out-of-office messages abound and everybody is relaxed.

While I enjoy the season, there’s always this niggling question: why is it that so many of us out here in Asia make a big deal out of such a Euro-centric and effectively Christian festival?

For most of my life, I did not celebrate Christmas. For my Singaporean Hindu family, it was a just another public holiday that we would spend catching up on sleep and re-runs and squeeze in a drive down Orchard Road to see the lights.

Now that I have married into a family that celebrates the season with great enthusiasm, I’ve become aware of just how varied the festival actually is and I wonder if we, in Singapore, could be doing more to celebrate these differences instead of homogenising the experience.

Orchard Road in Singapore... the Christmas lights are something to be admired every year. — Picture courtesy of www.orchardroad.orgOrchard Road in Singapore… the Christmas lights are something to be admired every year. — Picture courtesy of www.orchardroad.orgIn my husband’s Sri Lanka, the occasion has been endearingly accepted, digested and re-created as something entirely their own.

With their own Christmas bread (Breudher), their own seasonal wine (palm and date), various pasar malam-style Christmas markets and evenings of baila (dancing) and carols in Sinhala, Tamil and English, the entire Christmas season on the island is vibrant and has a surprisingly uncommercial and deeply tropical feel.

Seeing Sri Lanka’s wealth of Eurasianised Christmas traditions, I asked myself why is it that in Singapore we seem to celebrate a Christmas out of Pinterest screens or American commercials?

We also have large and old Christian communities, so where are our dances and cakes?

The answer is they did once exist: friends in Malaysia explained that there were once various Christmas treats like steamed cakes, sugee cakes, egg salads, Kristang style curries etc  but  as Eurasian communities dwindled and the commercial variety of Christmas became ubiquitous our traditions were simply blown away.

The result is a perfectly decorated Orchard road and malls with painstakingly colour-matched trees… and also something that boils down to Christmas by numbers.

Ultimately it is a reminder that authenticity is a tangible thing. There are many, many advantages to Singapore’s enormous wealth, commercial gloss and its smooth well-functioning systems but all this gloss often papers over what ought to be.

And when so much is done out of pure imitation — simply copying the recipes, the colour schemes of New York or London — we lose our true power: that of the prime melting-pot port city in Asia; the power to fuse both Western and Asian and create something genuinely new.

* This the personal opinion of the columnist.