Christmas in Singapore

Moving to another country-whether on a permanent or temporary basis-will, more often than not, require a host of readjustments. From practical transitions such as learning a new language or experiencing a new cuisine, to more fundamental alterations to a routine or lifestyle, relocating engenders change. The way in which you celebrate Christmas in your new country was one, perhaps less obvious, adjustment. Yet, for some expatriates, celebrating Christmas in a foreign land presented some very unique challenges. A 1924 article, printed in the Christmas Eve edition of the Malayan Saturday Post, informed readers of the difficulties British expatriates in Singapore faced. ‘For the average stay-at-home Englishman’, the article began, ‘the idea of Christmas in a hot climate seems quite unbelievable. Even though we are not now supposed to enjoy in England the “good old-fashioned Christmas” when the country was covered in snow, we do not have to bear tropical sunshine, and we are not denied the cosiness of the fireside’. ‘But in reality’, the author continued, ‘it is often easier for the men who live in tropical countries to enjoy the spirit of Christmas than for those at home. And why? Because we are able to celebrate the event in the ideal conditions which our imagination helps us to picture’.

For those far from home, Christmas brought about an extra opportunity to reconnect with friends and family. Gifts were transported between Britain and Singapore on a tremendous scale and, in 1937, included ‘Christmas trees, cream jars and sugar basins, woolly bears and doggies, and little sprigs of heather and holly’ (Straits Times, 17 December 1937). The sending of sprigs of heather was an easy way for those in Singapore to be reminded of home-an effect noted in the Singapore Free Press in 1935. In facetious tone, the article pondered that the sprig of heather was ‘probably considered an ideal present by the Scots friend at home, because it is one of the few gifts that does not carry customs duty’. The same article informed readers of the extra planes that had been added to the ‘England-Singapore service to cope with the rush’. Indeed, as the article went to press, ‘two Imperial Airways liners [were] heading for Singapore with about a ton of Christmas mail, in addition to Christmas parcels and passengers’. Two years later, the Straits Times told of Singapore’s ‘heaviest-ever Christmas mail’ which saw over 400 postal workers work for more than three hours to prepare it for delivery.


(Straits Times, 17 December 1937)

As December 25th nears, similar scenes to those above will undoubtedly be playing out across the globe, with expatriates eagerly awaiting festive packages from relatives, filled with their favourite treats from home.

Wherever you’re celebrating the festive season this year, merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!



16. December 2014 by Lesley Robinson
Categories: Research Story | Leave a comment

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