It is amazing how much Thanksgiving is forgotten now days. It seems like very year I see Christmas decorations sooner than the year before. This year Christmas is a bit different. and even though it is still nearly 2 months away, I have found myself thinking on it more. Therefore I thought I would take a post and answer one of the most common questions I am asked by my US friends this time of year – Do they celebrate Christmas in Singapore?
What a great question! Singapore consists of primarily Asian cultures and in most Asian cultures, Christmas is not a day of note. Therefore, the answer is no. Christmas is not a holiday that local Singaporeans celebrate. It is simply a day that they get off from work.
However! If you were to come visit me, you would within your first hour look at me and say “I thought they didn’t celebrate Christmas here!” To give a better understanding, I took a walk this week through Orchard, one of the bigger shopping and business districts here. I took a walk and took pictures of what I saw.
Thats right! Christmas here is in full swing! In fact, because Thanksgiving is an American holiday, there are no other holidays between Halloween and Christmas. Thus I have been seeing Christmas decorations for sale since early October. In nearly all commercial areas, there are signs of Christmas. Each mall having their own theme and decor. Christmas music is piped through every store. Outside the malls at Orchard, the street is Disney themed this year. Complete with spots to take photos with Mickey and Minnie.
Stores everywhere are having their Christmas sales and are decked with various holiday decor. Grocery stores are filled with candies. And who could forget Starbucks? New holiday drinks and cups galore!
The question “why?” can now be asked. Why would a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas as part of their culture have such a large presence of this western holiday? Christmas has a presence here because of westerners. It is here because of tourists that come during the winter and because of westerners who have moved here for work. There is a market for these things, so thus shelf space everywhere is dedicated to a fat man in a red suit. They even say Merry Christmas without all the political kerfuffle that it is met with in the US.
Now, many of you may be asking at this point – what about at church? Surely Christian churches must celebrate Christmas. After all, it is when we celebrate the birth of Christ. The answer to this is again – no. While some do, my church, along with a number of others here in Singapore, do not celebrate. No bows, garlands, or holly. No trees or lights. No Christmas carols. Not even a message about the birth of Christ. An additional prayer service is planned for Christmas day but that is about it.
Again, this begs the question “Why?” for many. The reasoning, though difficult to swallow, is actually quite sound.
- Christmas was founded upon a pagan holiday. There is a great deal of evidence that shows Christmas being celebrated long before it became part of the Catholic faith in the time of Constantine. It was celebrated by the Romans. Trees were decorated in the time the early Egyptians and the Babylonians. Mistletoe, Holly, Ivy, all were used in worship. I will not go in to full detail here. Saint Nicholas comes from German tradition. Though there are such figures in Norse mythology as well. The following link is a great article by someone who has done much more research than I. It will help for those looking to understand about the origins of Christmas. This holiday was indeed Christianised from pagan faiths.
2. Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. There are a few passages in Scripture that show this. We are told in Luke 2:7-8 that shepherds and flocks were out in the fields at night. It is unlikely that they would stay in the fields in December. Israel is cold and rainy in the winter months. Were Jesus born on December 25th, the sheep would likely have been in a stable. We are also told in Luke 2:1-4 that a census was happening at the time of Christ’s birth. This is also unlikely to take place in winter. Weather would make traveling much more difficult, not just for Mary and Joseph, but for Roman officials and Tax Collectors as well.
With these two thoughts in mind, some churches here (mine included). Think there is little reason to celebrate this holiday. It is founded in paganism and the foundations by which Christians justify there celebration is false. Thus, in order to separate themselves from the paganism on which Christmas if founded, no mention is made of Christmas. Similarly, Easter, Black Friday, Chinese New Year, and other holidays are not given any special attention.
Honesty time – I have a hard time with this. The two facts stated above are true. I do think Christ was born some time in the spring. I do know that Christmas was founded in paganism. I also understand that Christmas is simply not something that is part of culture here. It has been brought in commercially by and or westerners, but for the majority of people here, Christmas has never been a day for celebrating.
But as this topic has been much discussed in the past few weeks, I have found myself mulling over it more and more. Why do I participate in Christmas? What about other holidays? There are many holidays here that I am just now coming to know. The Hungry Ghost Festival, The Moon Festival, and Chinese New Year are just a few of them! I have found myself thinking more and more about it, because I think the answer to “why do I celebrate Christmas?” and “Why do you celebrate Chinese New Year?” are similar in nature. Many of the holidays I am seeing happen for the first time, are, like Christmas, rooted in their own paganism. Some revolve around demonic spirits and many are rooted in ancestral worship. Yet for many, I think both of these holidays are about family.
As I have thought about these things, I have asked myself why Christmas is important to me. Christmas is the time I get to spend with people I love. I live across the planet from my family now. Getting to spend Christmas with them will be a special and cherished time. I also can say that the Lord will be honoured as I spend that day with them. Pine trees, mistletoe, cakes, prime rib, lights, gifts – all of these things on any other day would be just things. Things that most would be excited about none the less. Yet for some reason if they are seen or done on December 25th they must have to do with Christmas and that is pagan…?
As I think this over, I am drawn to the following passage, 1 Corinthians 8:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
Paul is referring specifically to meat that has been offered to idols here. There were some amongst them who felt that to eat such meat was sinful. There were others who saw it as just meat and ate with no issue. Paul tells them that the meat is just that – meat. Yet he cautions those who know eating such meat is not sinful. The brothers and sisters around them were troubled by the eating of meat offered to idols. Those who ate without guilt were then cautioned not to eat when surrounded by those younger in faith who were troubled. For their sakes, so that they might not stumble. This principle can ring true for holidays as well.
I am not a pagan. I do not worship the sun. Or the Roman emperor. Or a goddess of fertility. Or my ancestors. I see nothing wrong with decorating my home with a tree and lights. I find myself guilty of no sin by giving gifts or by having a meal with my family. Yet there are some around me at church who are troubled by this. So indeed for their sakes, I will refrain when they are around.
Yet Christmas is part of who I am. It is part of how I grew up. Now more than ever, it is the only time I may see some of my family. It is a time where we laugh together, play games, worship, learn from the Word of God, and simply enjoy each others company. I am blessed that this year I will be able to return to California for Christmas. I eagerly await it!
I have not yet celebrated Chinese New Year. But I look forward to it this spring. Just as I look forward to many of the holidays that are celebrated here in Singapore. This melting pot of a city is home to so many cultures. It is amazing to see the uniqueness of each.
As this post draws to a close, American, Singaporean, or for any other nationality or race across the globe who may be reading this. I ask you to think about the holidays you participate in. Particularly for believers in Jesus Christ – Do your own investigating. Where does your holiday come from? Are you right with the Lord in the midst of your feasting? Or are you worshipping something or someone else? Or are you struggling with the idea of meat that is just after all, just meat? I challenge you to challenge your thinking on these ‘holy’ days, these days of celebration.