When Santa Claus ventures in Asia

Only a few years ago, Western houses were decked with thousands lights and children put their little shoes underneath the Christmas tree for the long-awaited Santa Claus, while halfway around the world Chinese kids lived an ordinary day. Celebrating Christmas was as foreign to them as the Duanwu Festival or the Lantern Festival to Westerners.

But the galloping globalization has led our good ol’ Santa Claus to the Middle Kingdom. Every year, Chinese people are getting more fascinated by this tradition and by Santa Claus. Coming straight out of Coca-Cola advertisements, the latter got stuck on the windows of shops and restaurants from Kunming to Shanghai, as much as in Xi’An.

"Merry Xmas China" by numb3r

In big cities, where shopping malls are popping up by the dozen, Christmas is an opportunity to indulge oneself and to spend money like in Europe and the United States. And just like French parents dress their children up for Halloween to imitate their neighbours, Chinese parents spoil their kids in order not to disappoint them. In less developed towns, one or two Santa Claus are also put up on the windows of the local restaurant, and the cheap tinsels and Christmas balls appear among dry fishes and second-hand bikes.

Let’s now go to Singapore where the situation is quite different. The city-state is a former British colony and has always welcomed newcomers. Most of the inhabitants used to come from China, India or Malaysia, so there is a great diversity in cultures and religions, which is visible through the various celebrations: Chinese New Year, the Hindus Deepavali, the Muslim Eif ul-Fitr, the Buddhist Vesakha or the Christian Good Friday. December 25th is thus a holiday for all Singaporeans, be they Christian or not, and celebrating Christmas has been an habit for decades.

Christmas illuminations in Singapore, by Jerry Wong.

As soon as November comes, the atmosphere in town becomes very festal. Shop windows are decorated for the occasion, streets are adorned with illuminations or even Christmas trees, and Christmas songs ring out in every shop. Some malls also offer shows with snow guns, others enable kids to meet Santa Claus. Orchard Road, the Singaporean “Champs Elysées”, offers the most impressive show and attracts lots of tourists. Many Christmas-themed special events are organized, such as concerts, parades and shows. Singapore spares no expenses for this celebration.

Christmas decorations in a shopping mall in Singapore, by William Cho

Christmas is usually spent with family, friends or even colleagues. Many companies throw a small party, and employees offer a gift to the person whose name they drew. Western influence, conveyed notably by American films and series which are very popular in Singapore, can be felt on the local way of celebrating Christmas: a sumptuous meal including a turkey (or a durian for the most adventurous peoples), gifts, Christmas trees, illuminations, Santa Claus, etc. In addition, Singapore is generally considered a shopping paradise. Thus, Christmas is also an opportunity for shops to launch sales and to see a turnover soar. The shopping frenzy before Christmas does not spare this part of the world. Christmas is everywhere, which is quite disconcerting when you know it is 32°C outside.