Every year-end, many countries all over the world light up with festive Christmas decorations. Singapore is no exception. In particular, Orchard Road, the famous shopping belt, is known for its thematic “light-up” that stretches for close to 3 kilometres.
To the delight of many, the theme for this year is “Disney Magical Moments.” This is apparently Orchard Road’s first branded light-up in the 35 years of the annual event. The decorations are divided into four thematic zones: Mickey Mouse and Friends, Disney Princess, Toy Story and Frozen. It is said to be Disney’s largest Christmas street light-up in Southeast Asia.
Since early November, popular Disney and Pixar characters such as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Woody have adorned the pavement, creating much buzz and excitement amongst tourists and locals alike. I particularly like the Mickey-shaped lights hanging from the majestic trees.
Disney fans are happy of course. So are many families with young children who adore Disney characters. Unfortunately, the joy wasn’t shared by Singapore’s National Council of Churches (NCCS). The NCCS called the Orchard Road light-up “disappointing,” saying that its focus on Disney characters buries the original meaning of the festival, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.
The NCCS expressed its concerns in a letter to the Singapore Tourism Board, one of the key partners involved in the Orchard Road light-up. The letter was signed by NCCS General Secretary Reverend Dr. Ngoei Foong Nghian. He said the council was “not against the use of Disney characters per se,” but wondered whether it should be the sole focus of what is “essentially a Christian festival.”
I am not Christian, and for me, Christmas is simply a public holiday when I often have gatherings with my friends and family. I can understand that the festival holds a different significance for Christians, but I’m not sure that Orchard Road’s decorations should be religious in nature. After all, Orchard Road is essentially a public space in a secular country.
Even my friends who are Christian have no issues with the Disney-themed decorations. One of them pointed out that past decorations featured Santa Claus, his reindeer and his elves — and they are hardly religious figures either. Yet, few would argue that they have no place in Christmas decorations.
How did the Singapore Tourism Board respond? A spokesperson said that they will initiate discussions with the NCCS and the Orchard Road Business Association, the key organizer of the light-up. Hopefully, this will help bring about mutual understanding.
At the end of the day, decorations are but one part of the big picture. In the spirit of the festive season, I believe and hope that we can all embrace our differences, and share a little more respect, love and joy. (Tan Ying Zhen)