SINGAPORE - About 800 people of different faiths joined in a Christmas celebration at the St Andrew's Cathedral on Friday (Dec 13) that also marked Singapore's growth in the last 200 years.
Leaders of the major religions in Singapore - including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism - were invited to the Bicentennial Christmas carol service, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was guest of honour.
The Singapore Combined Church Choir performed songs that told the story of the country's growth since the arrival of European traders in the 16th century, singing in multiple languages including Tamil, Malay, Chinese and Japanese.
Mr Lee said in his remarks near the end of the event that while Christmas is celebrated, the Bicentennial is commemorated.
"And we say commemorate because in 200 years, we've been through ups and downs, joys and sorrows, tragedies and successes."
But on the whole, Singapore has much to rejoice for, he said.
"And for Christmas, I think today is a day for rejoicing... for the good things that have happened to us and what we have achieved together."
The event was a joint effort by the Anglican Church of Singapore, the National Council of Churches of Singapore, and the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore.
Other leaders such as Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo, and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh were also present. Former president Tony Tan was also in the audience.
Religious leaders who attended include chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) Esa Masood, and Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) council members Hormuz Avari and Ling Kin Huat.
The first part of the service consisted of Bible teachings and carols led by the Choir of Sidney Sussex College from Cambridge University.
This was followed by the combined choir's performance, which included songs like Dayong Sampan. The popular Indonesian folk song was rendered to evoke migrants arriving at the Singapore River after the British established Singapore as a free port.
Bishop Rennis Ponniah of the Anglican Church said that the service was more than just a faith event, and the programme had been designed to be accessible to people of all religions.
"Christmas is Christmas, and many people have no objection about singing Christmas carols as a message of love and hope.
"Then we intertwined it with the history of Singapore, in such a way that we are first, true to the facts, but also giving thanks that higher hands have shaped us, and we are now in a good place. And all Singaporeans can rejoice in that," he told The Straits Times before a similar service held on Thursday (Dec 12).
IRO president Venerable Kwang Phing, who attended the service, said that the event showcased how people of different faiths can live alongside one another.
"The celebration will promote friendship and bonding with all other faiths, and introduce to the guests about (the Christians') teachings, belief, and practices," said Venerable Kwang Phing, who is also president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation.