Photos by Jenna Nichols
For a country comprised of only 18 percent Christians, according to the 2010 Singapore Census, Singapore puts a lot of effort into Christmas decorations on Orchard Road.
Walking around the shopping hub between Nov. 15 to Jan. 1, trees and buildings are covered in lights and Christmas trees. Anyone who has been in Singapore in previous years realize that these decorations are typical for this time of year; however, this year the color choices differ from previous red and green decor. Silver and blue lights and ornaments decorate the streets around Paragon, while gold and multi-colored stars hang from the trees between the Forum and Wisma Atria.
This is the 31st year of the annual display. The lights, organized by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) for the past five years, run for 2.88 kilometers from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura and turn on at 6:30 p.m. every day.
Change from the classic aesthetic to a more colorful arrangement caused a controversy among viewers.
“Some of the decorations I like, but I don’t like the main decorations with the different colors and gold. It doesn’t look coordinated,” junior Caroline In de Braekt said. “Last year they did some sort of blue decoration and everything looked really coordinated and put together, this year the decorations clash.”
Junior Mark Schoen agreed. “The colors of Christmas are white, green, red, and gold, but those aren’t the colors in the decorations. The decorations this year are rainbows and gold – it clashes.”
With nearly 50 years as an independent nation, ORBA announced their goal to reflect Singapore’s diversity, specifically by incorporating more colors than the traditional red and green in the display.
“We are a great diversity of people that live on this island, so the designer decided to depict diversity with the use of more colours,” ORBA chairman May Sng told Channel NewsAsia.
Adine Loh, Deputy Executive Director of ORBA, said planning for the display takes 364 days – the night Christmas lights are turned on, planning for next year’s decorations begins. Furthermore, according to ORBA’s Media Factsheet, producing the decorations takes 43,000 hours, equivalent to 1,791 days or almost five years (hours multiplied by number of people). The number of hours spent putting up the decorations is 13,500 – equivalent to 562 days.
While ORBA employees were open to discussing how much time had been spent on the project, they were more hesitant to discuss the cost. “Because the decorations are partially funded by Singapore’s Tourism Board, the budget of the display is confidential,” ORBA Account Manager Louann Wong said.
So why does Singapore feel compelled to invest so much time preparing for a holiday that isn’t even celebrated by the majority of the population?
“The whole idea is to turn Christmas into a consumerist holiday,” Schoen speculated. “It’s not about Christ anymore for most people, it’s about buying and giving gifts and spending money. Orchard road is a shopping district, so of course people will spend money there during the holidays.”
Coincidentally, the almost three-kilometer stretch of lights along Orchard is also home to over 2,000 brands in more than 20 different malls.
According to the Overseas Visitors Survey of 2012, “shopping accounts for approximately 21 percent of [Singapore’s] Tourism Receipts, while Food and Beverage contributes 10 percent.” That’s 31 percent of the tourism industry in dining and retail. If Singapore wanted to maximize that statistical potential, it would make sense to arrange a three-kilometer light display along the most popular retail area of Singapore.
Loh agreed with this, admitting that in 2013, close to 5.35 million visitors enjoyed the festivities. One-fourth of those tourists came to Singapore specifically for the Christmas experience.
After the change in organization from the Singapore Tourism Board to ORBA, the lights on Orchard road have been internationally recognized multiple times. Singapore was the only Asian country on Lonely Planet’s 2011 list of “Top 10 Christmas Markets of the World,” included in Frommer’s “World’s Best Holiday Lights: 10 Decorated Cities,” and was the Merit Award Winner of the International Downtown Association Achievements in 2012.
“It’s a season of giving,” Loh said. “Even for the many non-Christians here, Christmas is a reason for friends and family to gather and feast. To ORBA, the lights represent a signature event which allows the Association to give back to our community.”
Regardless of whether ORBA’s main goal is to draw consumer attention to the shopping hot spot, enhance the holiday spirit, or a combination of the two, the spectacular holiday display shouldn’t be missed.