The Business of Christmas

It’s the most-monies-spent time of the year, when discounts are free-flow and the street is aglow with a light-up on show…

I’ve always considered the Orchard Road light-up to be a signature yearly Singaporean event, never mind the Singapore shopping belt has been having trouble keeping brick-and-mortar retail going since Amazon kicked off the e-Commerce revolution. For about two months, the iconic stretch of malls was a visual celebration of the things we never had as an island-state: snow, pine trees, reindeer, sleighs, and a judgy man in a red suit and white beard that makes children sit on his lap and promise them things for suspicious reasons no one has ever thought to question.

Image credit: Singapore Playground

It was an innocent time.

And then a couple of years back, something strange happened: some of the malls (not just one) started replacing their teen-sized wooden soldiers and styrofoam Rudolphs with man-sized Stormtroopers and X-Wing fighters.

Image Credit: TimeOut Singapore

The post Episode VI (or Episode III if you want to be chronologically anal) became an annual year-end event, and to the shopping centre marketers, the sight of entire sections of tall clone soldiers clad in moulded white shiny plastic armour with black accents was just so Christmassy.

So my very first reaction to the Orchard Road Christmas light-up being tied to Disney was only half- surprise. I work in marketing, so I understand how brand marketing works, and I can only imagine how much money a brand would have to pay to have their products literally plastered all over a country’s most popular street at the height of its most-visited period.

I also used to work in a law firm, so I understand how brand licensing works, and I can only imagine how much money would have to be paid to a brand to have their products literally plastered all over a country’s most popular street at the height of its most-visited period.

Marketing is a confusing business.

I can understand the position taken by the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) when they said there’s “no meaningful connection” between Christmas as a fundamentally Christian holiday and the theme of this year’s (and by the terms of the deal the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has struck, the next 2 years’) light-up. Christmas is at its core a religious celebration; Jesus of Nazareth, born to Joseph and Mary in a manger under the Christmas star, visited by three wise men from the East; the one animated Hollywood movie that depicts the Nativity story isn’t even made by Disney.

For that matter, there’s really no meaningful connection between Christmas as a fundamentally Christian holiday and snow, pine trees, reindeer, sleighs, and a judgy man in a red suit and white beard.

Here’s what connection we can make out of all of this: Christmas Day is a Christian holiday; as long as the meaning of Christmas holds true to those who hold the faith close to your hearts, nothing can take that meaningful connection away from you. It’s also a state-sanctioned, secular holiday that non-Christians like me recognise brings friends and family together to indulge in merry-making and partake in the spirit of giving.

The Christmas season, however, is not a religious anything; at least here, it is a retail event stretched over two, sometimes three months, that at one innocent time was meant to capitalise on the preparations people rush to make towards this one holiday, and now for one particular street in Singapore, is a last-ditch effort by a dying bourgeois trade to survive the digital age. It’s also an industry-sanctioned that Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) recognises brings all the shopping malls together to indulge in dressing their buildings in their Christmas best and partake in the spirit of year-end sales.

If you think about it, Orchard Road has actually made Christmas in Singapore a wonderful example of how one country celebrates the entitlement of everyone’s own opinion for the last 35 years; I do humbly ask NCCS, STB and ORBA not to let one mouse take that away from us.

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