As 2021 draws to a close, I’ve started to mark my calendar for the usual Christmas festivities. I’ve started shopping for gifts, organising a get-together for friends, and am looking forward to the year-end holiday as a time to wind down and enjoy some time with loved ones over a good meal and cosy conversations.
My husband and I have already decorated our mini-Christmas tree, which stands proudly on our dining table.
Recently, however, I met one group of Christians who’ve been preparing for Christmas in a very different way.
The team behind Celebrate Christmas in Singapore (CCIS), an event held in the heart of town every year since 2004, has been busy shining a spotlight on the birth of Jesus—and they haven’t let the pandemic stop them.
In a recent video call with some of their committee members, I discovered a dedicated, faithful team who don’t mind spending their Christmas out and about, working when everyone else is taking a break.
Bringing the Christmas Message to the Masses
For nearly 20 years, the inter-denominational charity has been organising festive street performances and carolling, art and light displays, and interactive booths and games in the lead-up to Christmas.
The hope of this large-scale celebration, its chairman Louis Tay told me, is to remind people about the real meaning of Christmas.
“Before we started organising this, Christmas at Orchard Road was just about people trying to sell you something every step of the way, and places were playing all kinds of Christmas music,” recalls Ang Puay Koon, a longtime volunteer. “It didn’t feel right—this isn’t what Christmas is about, and it shouldn’t be celebrated that way.”
Before Covid-19, the week-long annual festival used to draw as many as 10,000 visitors, with a concert on Christmas Day itself drawing over 30,000 people.
That, says CCIS logistics chairman Victor Ng, helped to change people’s impression of Christmas—and the Christian faith itself.
“People who had never stepped into a church stopped to see all these performances,” he says. “Many thought church was just about praying, but through the display and concert, they caught a glimpse of what Christmas and Christianity is all about.”
Some people even came to know the Lord as a result.
I was one of those who was personally touched by CCIS. About 10 years ago, while covering a story on Christmas as a reporter, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the scale of the celebrations, and the life-size nativity scene describing the Messiah’s birth.
A few days later, I stepped into a church for the first time in a number of years—and eventually committed myself to Christ.
From the Heart of Town into Homes
CCIS, however, will look very different this year.
As a result of Covid-19, plans for on-site celebrations have had to be shelved. Instead, on December 19, CCIS will be launching a Christmas musical, “Home for Christmas: The Gift”, on YouTube at 8 p.m. The 1.5-hour show will tell the story of what it means to find joy amid loneliness during the pandemic, and feature performances by local and foreign artistes.
They include Singaporean singer-songwriter Lou Peixin (also know as Miss Lou); South Korean worship team WELOVE; and 11-year-old Canadian singer Roberta Battaglia, who clinched the Golden Buzzer on America’s Got Talent last year.
It will also host an interactive kids’ programme over Zoom from 13 to 16 December. This features a virtual quest for kids to “rediscover the lost hope of Christmas”, a sharing of the Christmas message, and a personalised gift pack which will be sent to their homes.
CCIS also plans to bless the migrant worker community by distributing 1,000 gift packs to dormitories and at Little India. It is also organising an online concert and on-site festive flea market for them. (If you’re between 13 and 18, CCIS is looking for volunteers to help pack the gift packs and befriend migrant workers; find out more at ccis.sg/byob)
When One Sinner Repents
Over the years, I was told, CCIS has faced many challenges.
“At times, we felt that we were going to close down; at other times we felt that we couldn’t continue because we were so tired,” recalls Victor. “There was one year we had nothing left. But one donor said, ‘Go, I’m going to give you $50,000.’ With that pledge, we started the Christmas campaign again. God has been faithful, and each year that we can continue is by God’s grace.”
What keeps the team going is their strong and unshakeable belief in the providence of God, and in the preciousness of the gospel message they seek to share, year in and year out.
“‘There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents,’” says programmes chairman Kelvin Tan, quoting Luke 15:10. “We are not counting numbers, but we want to count our purpose as making an important difference in the lives of others.”
What Are You Celebrating?
Listening to the CCIS team share their story, I couldn’t help but be struck by their passion and love for the gospel message, and how they are so eager to tell others about the true meaning of Christmas.
It reminds me of how the shepherds responded on finding the baby Jesus during the very first Christmas. As Luke 2:17 notes, they couldn’t wait to “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child”.
It is, I confess, a stark contrast to my own attitude towards celebrating Christmas: I often see it as a time of personal remembrance and merrymaking, rather than a time of pointing others towards Christ—who is, after all, the main reason for all our celebrations.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with simply enjoying the fun of Christmas.
Yet, hearing from the team behind CCIS has prompted me to think a little deeper about why and how I’m celebrating Christmas—and what all the cosy gatherings, bright lights, and shiny presents ought to beckon me towards.
In the midst of my merrymaking, how am I rejoicing in the birth of Jesus? Do I, like Mary, want to glorify and worship God as my Saviour (Luke 1:46–47)?
When I marvel at the Christmas lights with my loved ones, am I also beckoning them towards the Light of the world with the same awe and wonder (John 8:12)?
And as I think of what presents to buy for my loved ones, do I have the same excitement that they will hear and receive the greatest gift that only God can give—“eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)?
As I celebrate yet another Christmas, will I see it as an opportune time to share the good news with my friends and family, and tell them about why God sent His Son to earth?
How about you?