NOVEMBER 29 — Another year, another Deepavali past in a blur of family visits, sweets, curries and ang pows.
Well, actually this year was somewhat different with Covid-19 restrictions; you really had to carefully select the friends and family you wanted to see and schedule accordingly.
Public gatherings, markets and parades were cancelled and this really put a damper on the festive spirit.
So, perhaps this is why many Singaporeans found the time to comment on something I have noticed most of my life — bringing to the forefront a seemingly trivial but actually rather complex question: When should Christmas decorations go up?
In the West, there are many memes that mock the eagerness of malls to put up the end of year markers and hurry along all the spending it encourages.
It is important to note that oftentimes these decorations capture a secular, festive season (of trees and presents) rather than a Christian celebration.
In Singapore, the world’s most dominant celebration often sees its decorations go up by early to mid-November and unlike the little pockets designated for ethnic festivals, these decorations are everywhere.
The message, it seems, is everyone celebrates Christmas.
And so, because of the time of the year when these two festivals occur, there has long been concern in the local Hindu community that Christmas’ enormous retail and celebratory footprint drowns out some of Deepavali’s visibility. On one hand, of course, given Singapore’s Indian/Hindu population it is nice that malls and retailers put up Deepavali decorations at all.
From a commercial perspective, I can see the motivation not to. The Indian population is small, so commercially Christmas makes a lot more sense.
However, despite being a minority we shouldn’t be an afterthought. I also think there is an opportunity at nation-building being missed.
Festivals shouldn’t just be about the bottomline. Deepavali is a national holiday and it acknowledges the existence of the island’s Indian/Hindu population.
It is also an opportunity for Singapore to celebrate its melting pot status. Besides there is no reason why Deepavali cannot generate activities and sales that engage with people beyond the Indian community.
In fact, this cuts to the heart of the issue.
As a nation, we need to stop “othering” each other’s celebrations. I think the widespread appearance of Christmas decorations everywhere is fine — we just need to extend it to all the other festivals.
So, Chinese New Year (CNY) isn’t just two days of public holidays for the non-Chinese but instead an island-wide celebration of reunion dinners and Hari Raya is an occasion for every suburb to have their own signature food bazaars.
Every festival important to Singaporeans with its various traditions could easily appeal to the broader population if it received only a fraction of the marketing budget put into Christmas.
So, as we head into the final stretch of the year and Christmasmas is unleashed — spare a moment for the festivals of 2021 and remember there is no harm in fully celebrating every single one.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.