Celebrating Christmas far from family is a bit of a challenge. The secret is adding a few new traditions to your holiday repertoire! This expat family are living near Holland Village in Singapore and show us round their festive home.
“I love making Christmas magical for my children,” says LINDA SHEARER with a glow. “Even now that my three daughters are a bit older, it’s still magical for them – full of so many memories. But the way we make memories in Singapore has had to change a bit from the way we did things back in the UK.”
Adding to what they have
For starters, there’s the tree. Back in their home outside of London, they always bought a real tree. Here? The ceiling in their black-and-white house is very high, so a real tree would have felt a bit dinky. That’s why, in their first year here, they bought a 15-foot-tall fake tree at Kinex Mall.
“I really do miss the real tree. We even had a bit of tradition about it. The girls and their dad would head off around the first of December and come back with the tree. I’d always have a moan saying it’s not big enough, not bushy enough. Then, by the time we decorated it, I’d say the tree wasn’t too bad after all.” Linda laughs, saying she even felt the giant fake tree was too small at first, until they decorated it.
Linda brought most of the decorations from home. She has lots of them, too, because every year on the first of December, she gives her girls a tree gift – a special ornament. Look closely at the tree, and you can find sets of three of the same decorations throughout. And since her daughters are older now (India is 18, Imogen 16 and Iris 14), there are plenty of years of tree gifts to decorate the fir, the majority brought with them from London. All the ornaments have memories and the girls know the story of each. Linda’s hope is that they will eventually take their ornaments with them and pass them down to their own children one day.
flavour Last year, in Singapore, the tree presents were a series of huge reindeer to go on the tall tree. And she has added to her decorations in other ways, too. “One thing I love in this house are the banisters. We didn’t have them back home, so decorating these has been really fun. But everything is so expensive here that my helper and I bought pieces separately and wove them together to create the garlands I wanted.”
Singapore’s blue skies and palm trees make Linda feel like she’s on vacation and not getting ready to celebrate the holidays. Originally from South Africa where they don’t have a lot of Christmas decorations, she wasn’t expecting to find new ornaments here in Singapore, also a warm country. So she was really happy to find new things she loves at places such as Tangs, Paragon and the Danish Fair at Mount Faber, where she’s picked up quite a few bits and pieces, including fresh centrepieces made with fir and candles.
Mixing old and new traditions
Despite this, surrounding themselves with the trappings of the holidays doesn’t take the place of time with family. “I didn’t realise how much my children enjoyed Christmas at home with granny and grandpa until we lived here,” laments Linda. “I myself really miss the cold, the sideways rain and the smell of turkey and brussels sprouts cooking – and not paying an arm and a leg for them!” she laughs. To bridge the distance, they now connect with family on Facebook and try to open the gifts together over the internet.
Linda has kept several traditions alive in their new home. For instance, she has 24 little light-up houses that she uses as an advent calendar. Inside each one is a clue the girls must follow on a treasure hunt to find a special gift for the day. They get little things such as chocolate or perfume. On the day before Christmas, they get a nutcracker to add to the family collection.
Throughout the month of December, they watch Christmas movies together. Then, on Christmas Eve, the entire family gets into their special festive pyjamas, curls up on the sofa and watches yet another Christmas movie. And they do church every Christmas Day, and have crackers with their Christmas dinner.
A Christmas away
Last year, though, Christmas dinner was a bit different. For the first time ever, Linda and her family were travelling over Christmas, spending the holiday with family friends in Australia. Linda was very excited about the trip, but a bit apprehensive, too. “This was going to be our first ever Christmas in somebody else’s home, experiencing somebody else’s celebrations. I was wondering about what kind of gift to get them, if I should help cook and more.”
This is something to which expats can relate, many often spending Christmas holidays away from family and with friends instead for the first time ever. In the end, the holidays are obviously different yet often also magical.
But perhaps their favourite new tradition is celebrating Iggy, their red miniature toy poodle. He was adopted on Christmas Day their first year in Singapore.
“Christmas in Singapore is definitely different – and, in some ways, better than before. We’ve kept many of our old traditions and added new ones, too. But in the end, what really matters is that we’re all together. That is what makes this time of the year truly special.”
Christmas Decoration Directory
- Check out the wholesalers at Kinex Mall.
- Tangs and Paragon have great decorations.
- Danish Fair on Mt Faber stocks lovely fresh fir decorations
..and here’s Where to buy Christmas Trees
Want more home inspiration? See our home décor section!
This article first appeared in the December 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!