SINGAPORE: The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) on Friday (Nov 23) called this year's Christmas light-up along Orchard Road "disappointing", saying that its exclusive focus on Disney characters buries the original meaning of the festival.
In a letter addressed to the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) chief executive officer Keith Tan, the NCCS said that it is "deeply concerned" about the "increasing secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas" in Singapore, and how the Disney light-up is an "extensive" brand exercise.
"Being an essentially religious festival, Christmas should not be viewed primarily as a money-making venture or an opportunity to market a particular commercial brand," the NCCS wrote in the letter, which was signed off by NCCS general secretary Reverend Ngoei Foong Nghian.
Disney Magical Moments is Orchard Road's first branded light-up in the 35 years of the annual event, and is the result of a collaboration between The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia, Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) and the Singapore Tourism Board.
The light-up, which covers a 2.88km stretch of Orchard Road - from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura - started on Nov 10. It features Disney and Pixar characters such as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Elsa and Woody.
In his letter dated Nov 19 and also posted on the NCCS website, Dr Ngoei said that the council was concerned that the light-up - with its exclusive focus on Disney characters - has no meaningful connection to Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.
"We recognise that Christmas is widely celebrated in Singapore and many parts of the world by people who are not Christians," Dr Ngoei wrote.
"We also recognise the legitimate interests of the STB and the Orchard Road Business Association to leverage on the general mood of celebration associated with Christmas to draw more tourists and Singaporeans to spend at Orchard Road," he added.
With the focus on Disney characters, however, "the original meaning of Christmas has been effectively buried under the thick layer of this extensive and sophisticated brand promotion exercise", wrote Dr Ngoei.
He clarified that the council was "not against the use of Disney characters per se", but wondered whether it should be the sole focus of what is "essentially a Christian festival".
He said he hoped that STB would take the views into consideration, especially in view of its three-year partnership with Disney, which was announced last year.
STB SAYS HAS REACHED OUT TO NCCS
STB has reached out to NCCS after receiving its letter and looks forward to discussing the issue, said STB's director for dining and retail Ranita Sundra and ORBA executive director Steven Goh in a statement.
"After receiving NCCS' letter, STB had reached out to the council to initiate a conversation for both parties to better understand each other’s views and perspectives," said the two. "We look forward to the discussion with NCCS."
They added that the Orchard Road Christmas light-up was just "one of several components" of the Christmas on a Great Street event, which also features pop-up booths along Orchard Road, including one run by Celebrate Christmas in Singapore, an associate member of NCCS.
"Together, these offerings provide a range of experiences for different groups of visitors, both Christians and non-Christians," they said.
STB and ORBA work to make the annual Christmas event a "distinctive and memorable affair" with broad festive appeal every year for all visitors to Orchard Road, added the two.
"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."