Churches' council said Disney-themed Orchard Road Xmas light-up buries meaning of the festival; STB offers to discuss matter

Disney-themed Christmas 2018 light-up along Orchard Road. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) has expressed its concern about this year's Disney-themed Christmas street light-up and said that it buries the meaning of the festival.

In response, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) - which is organising the light-up - and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a joint statement on Saturday (Nov 24) that the board has reached out to NCCS "to initiate a conversation for both parties to better understand each other's views and perspectives".

Reverend Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian, general secretary of the NCCS, said the use of Walt Disney characters has no connection to Christmas.

"We are concerned that the light-up, with its exclusive focus on Disney characters, has no meaningful connection to the season of Christmas," he said in a letter addressed to Mr Keith Tan, chief executive officer of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

"Christmas, at its heart, is a festival in the Christian calendar, which commemorates the incarnation and birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

In the letter, Dr Ngoei said the light-up this year, the first of a three-year collaboration between Disney and the STB, has caused the original meaning of Christmas to be "buried under the thick layer of this extensive and sophisticated brand promotion exercise".

At this year's light-up, more than 20 Disney and Disney-Pixar characters, such as Disney princesses Snow White and Cinderella, and Toy Story characters Woody and Rex can be seen on the arches that span the road.

The annual Christmas light-up started on Nov 10 and ends on Jan 1.

STB director for dining and retail Ranita Sundra and Orba executive director Steven Goh noted in the joint statement issued early on Saturday morning that the light-up is one of several components of the Christmas on a Great Street event along Orchard Road.

Other aspects of the event include The Great Christmas Village at Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza, the Timbre x Food Village and Bar, and the Hitachi Santa House.

There are also several pop-up booths along Orchard Road, such as one run by NCCS associate member, Celebrate Christmas in Singapore.

"Together, these offerings provide a range of experiences for different groups of visitors, both Christians and non-Christians," said the statement.

It added that STB and Orba work with other partners every year to make the Orchard Road Christmas event "a distinctive and memorable affair with broad festive appeal" for all visitors to the street.

"This year's family-friendly Disney-themed light-up follows the same approach, and is intended to complement the spirit of friendship and conviviality that we hope visitors will experience as they travel down Orchard Road," the statement said.

The Straits Times had earlier reported on some negative comments that the light-up has received.

Some had shared the NCCS's sentiments that the characters and decorations were too overtly commercial, with too little emphasis on Christmas.

When asked for the reception to this year's Christmas decorations, Orba had previously said it has had positive feedback from people of all ages, especially from families with young children.

Experts ST interviewed had also said Orba's partnership with Disney is well thought out and will be quite appealing to tourists visiting Singapore during the festive season.

In his letter, Dr Ngoei said the NCCS acknowledges that Christmas is celebrated by non-Christians and is seen as a time of feasting and gift-giving, but said its treatment in Singapore has increasingly become secular and commercialised.

He also made a comparison between Christmas and other festivals with religious roots such as Deepavali, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Vesak Day, saying that they are carried out with less commercialisation.

He added that the NCCS is not against the use of Disney characters, but it "wonders if they should be the focus of what is essentially a Christian festival".

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