Friday, January 11, 2008

A glittering tradition

A glittering tradition

Singapore's annual Christmas light-up brings a touch of magic to the island state

Published on December 20, 2007

Last Sunday night, Singapore's famed shopping area on Orchard Road was ablaze with Christmas lights, dancing ballerinas, toy soldiers, princesses and even a castle fortress. Once darkness falls, this is a road that leads local folks and tourists through a scintillating story.

This year, Singapore's "Fairytale Christmas" theme is based on "The Nutcracker" - the famous fairytale romance of a wooden soldier and an elegant ballerina. It is the story of Prince Noel who goes in search of his missing true love, Princess Ballerina, through the Crystal Forest.

The fairytale is narrated in a visual journey that runs almost six kilometres from the road to the Marina Bay area and takes in 150,000 metres of LED lights, 72,000 red and silver Christmas baubles, and 2,880 imitation snowflakes, in addition to figurines of main characters Prince Noel and the Princess Ballerina, and such props as the prince's palace, the magical carousel where the princess lives and the Crystal Forest.

We travel there via Singapore's efficient underground MRT, getting off at Orchard Station and stopping to admire the imaginative Christmas lights at several shopping complexes including Tang Plaza, the Paragon, Ngee Ann City & Takashimaya SC and Lucky Plaza.

The junction adjacent to Tang Plaza has been cleverly designed as an arched entrance decorated with lights and it comes guarded by a toy soldier. We walk along the road to the Singapore Visitors Centre and take our free seats on the HiPPO double-decker, open-top bus, eager to see more.

We pass the Christmas trees in front of the Wisma Atria and Paragon shopping complexes and snap Santa's reindeers in full flight outside electronics emporium Lucky Plaza. And it's not just the tourists who are busy taking photographs - there are plenty of Singaporeans on the HiPPO thrilled by the festive eye candy.

Before the tour comes to an end, we stop at an intersection designed like a palace, its four corners decorated with the toy soldiers and princess of "The Nutcracker".

The HiPPO tours run every 15 minutes from 7 to 9.30pm and seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

The lights are on from 7pm to midnight Sundays to Thursdays and until 2am at weekends. On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, the light-up continues until 6am and January 2 is the last day of this annual event.

The light-up is part of the "Christmas in the Tropics" extravaganza, which was started in 1984 as part of a campaign to boost tourist arrivals during Singapore's wet season. It has proved immensely popular. About 20 per cent of some 1.6 million tourists visiting Singapore over the peak tourism months of November and December are there for the Christmas lights, according to Joycelyn Ng, the Singapore Tourism Board's deputy director of leisure marketing and events management.

"With a programme packed full of shopping, dining and entertainment options, it's little wonder that one in five visitors surveyed last year planned their trips to coincide with Singapore's Christmas celebration," she says.

Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul,

Kittipong Thavevong

The Nation

The writers would like to thank Thai Air Asia and the Singapore Tourism Board.

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