The National Council of Churches (NCCS) sent a letter to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on November 23, 2018, expressing concern that the exclusive focus on Disney characters for this year’s Orchard Road Christmas light-up had no meaningful connection to the birth of Jesus Christ.
“The original meaning of Christmas has been effectively buried under the thick layer of this extensive and sophisticated brand promotion exercise,” the NCCS wrote in the letter.
I’m sure a bunch of us couldn’t help but think: Here we go again. Why do Christians find pleasure in imposing their own beliefs on the rest of the world? And why do we care if Orchard Road is being lit up with Elsas and Buzz Lightyears?
Yeah it’s fluff, but at least it’s family-friendly fluff.
I mean, it’s Orchard Road we’re talking about. Do we really expect the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) to put up nativities every 50 meters? And shouldn’t we just save our words for the bigger issues circling our nation?
Here’s the thing though. I’m beginning to think that the NCSS wasn’t exactly making an unfounded fuss about the increasing secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas. Here’s why.
The Treasure Box, a company my wife and I set up to help other young parents build faith at home, recently launched an art competition where we called for submissions from kids aged 5 to 9 on the theme: “What Christmas means to me”.
We received more than 260 entries from children in Singapore and JB – many of them from church and faith-based kindergartens.
Now, you’d think that given the background of these kids, we’d receive a whole ton of nativity drawings, right?
Out of all the submissions, only about 15% featured the birth of Jesus or something otherwise related to the story of Christmas (e.g. Wise Men, Angels, Shepherds etc). The rest were a cornucopia of everything and anything but – plenty of Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, candy canes, presents, families eating Christmas food and so on.
Out of all the submissions, only about 15% featured the birth of Jesus or something otherwise related to the story of Christmas.
It might seem shocking, but the truth is we shouldn’t be surprised. When I was a kid, I remember walking down Orchard Road with my parents – not just to see the light up, but to listen to and watch the many dramatized performances put up by churches and Christian groups along the street.
It was irresistibly festive, and yet unmistakably Christian. But no one seemed to mind. Pictures of the nativity adorned the front of shopping centres, right next to “SALE” signages. Somehow, Christianity and Commerce co-existed, and neither seemed to bother the other.
Just take a look around your neighbourhood malls today. Is there any reference to Christmas being about Jesus’ birth? Or are there Pokemon hanging from the ceiling? Do people even say “Christmas” anymore – or is it just “Happy Holidays” now?
Are there cartoon and fantasy characters on shopfronts? Are we seeing the last of Bible verses proclaiming glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men? (Luke 2:14)
When the vast majority of the next generation – even those with access to Christian community – do not truly understand the meaning of Christmas, I think it’s time to sit up and take notice.
And it’s not that our churches and children’s ministries don’t do a good job of telling kids about the true significance of why we celebrate Christmas. I think they do.
It’s just that the world does a better, louder, more entertaining, more eye-catching, more attention-grabbing job of peddling their version of Christmas. And we’re all buying it.
What do we do then? How can we reverse the situation? Do we sign an online petition asking for Orchard Road to take down the Disney lights? Do we get into arguments with trolls in the comments sections on Facebook?
The world does a better, louder, more entertaining, more eye-catching, more attention-grabbing job of peddling their version of Christmas. And we’re all buying it.
It’s not that complicated. We just have to be more intentional about telling our friends, our nephews and nieces, and the kids in Sunday School about the real meaning of Christmas. And don’t wait till Christmas to do it. Start now.
Don’t be afraid to take the time to walk those who’ve never heard the real Christmas story through the scene where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she will be the mother of the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
Stand with them on the hillside as the heavenly host glorifies God before a terrified group of shepherds. And let them feel the hushed awe that fell over the little town of Bethlehem the night Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace was born (Luke 2:8-20).
As Christians, we should care that Christmas is depicted as simply a season for gift-giving (i.e. spending your year-end bonus) rather than the celebration of our Saviour’s birth. So let’s make this Christmas, and every Christmas memorable for ourselves and our young friends.
Help people, especially the little ones in our care, experience the wonder of Christmas, the way it was meant to be experienced.
The Treasure Box has produced a hardcover, bilingual storybook telling the Christmas story using 30 of the 260 submitted art pieces. Called “圣诞节的故事 The Christmas Story”, this book was drawn by children and presents the Good News of the Saviour’s birth in simple, clear, and easy-to-understand language.
The book is now available for purchase at their website and is priced at $14 (UP: $16) for a limited time only. For orders of 10 or more copies, an additional discount of $2 per copy will be applied. In addition, part of the proceeds will go towards supporting the operational costs of Beyond Awesome, a local VWO working with low-resource families and underprivileged kids in Singapore.