Three Singaporeans recount heartwarming stories about celebrating the holidays abroad in Shanghai, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Read on and discover their unique Christmas traditions and how they stay close to their loved ones despite being so far from home.
Updated 16 December 2021 / By Mei & Rui
Christmas in Hong Kong by Danielle Fong
In 2002, I got on a plane and left Singapore on Christmas Day. Since then, I have been celebrating a cold, winter Christmas in Hong Kong.
I love Christmas, and I love it even more after becoming a parent. It makes the celebration more meaningful with our children. My husband wants our daughter to believe that Santa is real, so it became a “tradition” for her to place her letter for Santa, accompanied by cookies and milk, on every Christmas Eve.
That same night, we would place all the presents under the tree and told her Santa visited and dropped off the gifts while she was sleeping. She is thirteen now, and we secretly believe she knows Santa is not real anymore, but she plays along so that she doesn’t ruin it for her little brother.
On Christmas day, my husband will prepare a feast for us. Roast beef, roast potatoes and Christmas pudding are a must-have during dinner. Christmas crackers and games too!
Our (then) almost four-year-old son is sensible enough to help decorate our faithful, twelve-year-old Christmas tree instead of destroying it. It is such a joy to see two kids in our home, soaking into the Christmas spirit and enjoying this festive season. Of course, our son is starting to believe in Santa as well.
About the Author
A Singaporean married to a Hong Konger with two naturalised Singaporean children, waiting to relocate back to her sunny island home next summer. A multi-tasker who raises children, cooks delicious and healthy kids’ meals, designs for her husband’s company as well as teaches Graphic Design in design school. She is currently freelancing to make time to prepare for the family’s BIG MOVE.
My Best Last Christmas by Eve Wee-Ang
Having lived in Shanghai for over ten years, my family has visited me countless times. Each time they visit us, I always try my best to provide them with new experiences.
With three birthday celebrations in a row – my sister’s, my husband’s and my daughter’s – December is a fun party month for my whole family. Adding Christmas into the mix, we always have a reason to celebrate.
Three years ago, my family from Singapore visited us again in Shanghai. It was a party of six that included my sister’s family, my aunt and my mother. Everyone stayed at our house, so you can imagine the ruckus we caused!
My family took the opportunity to sleep in a lot! Our favourite activity is curling up at home and catching up with each other over a cup of my mother’s famous kopi brewed with coffee beans that she hand-carried from the wet market. One of the most memorable moments was when it snowed last year (It rarely snows in Shanghai!) and my family went absolutely bonkers out of excitement!
Like every typical Singaporean household, food rules. Weeks before she visited us in Shanghai, my mother had begun filling up her luggage with our favourite foods from home. She was the true Santa Claus, as she unveiled packets of Irvin’s Salted Egg Fish Skin, Ah Seng’s durian, Milo Australian Recipe refill packs and of course, the fresh yellow noodles which I insist have a uniquely Singaporean texture that can’t be found anywhere in Shanghai. With these bounties, I cooked up a Christmas feast that was a rojak of Southeast Asian and Western dishes.
On the last night, the kids and I decided to put up a rock concert at home. I was the lead singer and my 5-year-old niece was my backup with her new Christmas present – an electric guitar. To pay homage to my family, I crooned like an aging rocker with a bad throat as I summarized the highlights of their trip in my songs. Everyone rolled on the floor and laughed till their bellies hurt. My mother, as usual, was the loudest of the pack. She didn’t just laugh, she roared. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
In 2018, my beloved mother passed away. She was cycling to the wet market and got hit by a van. I was in Shanghai when I received the devastating news, so I asked my brother-in-law to place the phone on her ear. She was already unconscious, but I told her I love her very much and asked her to wait for me to come home. However, minutes later, my mother left us. I was the last person who spoke to her.
With the holidays approaching, even though I am still struggling to make sense of her passing, I am comforted that we spent our best last Christmas together in Shanghai.
About the Author
Eve was a fashion publicist for luxury brands before she relocated to Shanghai as a trailing spouse. She started the TTT (Thursday Tai Tai) support group for Singaporean mothers in Shanghai which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year. She is a columnist for Parents & Kids magazine in Shanghai and the first Singaporean certified KonMari consultant – whilst trying hard to be a cool mom to her tweens. Eve can be contacted at email@example.com.
Christmas in New Zealand by Pang Hong Mei
Christmas in the heart of New Zealand unofficially begins when the two big Pohutukawa trees outside Wellington Railway Station blossom with bright red flowers. That’s why they are also known as New Zealand Christmas trees! It’s an indication that summer is finally here, and the weather is beginning to warm up. Cookie Time sellers start popping up around town with buckets of Christmas cookies. Iʼve always distracted myself from the temptation to buy one by rushing off to catch the train home.
There’s always something to do in New Zealand during the days leading up to Christmas. One year, Rui and I checked out the Santa parade in town. Another year, we went around the neighbourhood at night to see the lights done up by different households.
Christmas is all about traditions and we have our own. While the locals spend Christmas catching up with their family over the barbie and a few beers, Rui and I pack our bags, clip on the reindeer ears and nose on the car and go on our annual summer roadie.
I check the weather forecast constantly while Rui keeps an eye on the road. We plan as we go; with nothing booked despite knowing it’s the busy holiday period. If it’s forecast to rain, we search for sheltered accommodation; if the weather is fine, we carry on camping. We enjoy the freedom so much we don’t mind dealing with the uncertainty of having nowhere to stay or shower. Fortunately, it’s never happened before and most years, we spend Christmas Eve sleeping in a hut with strangers!
The following day, on Christmas, we go for long walks in the mountains, exchanging Christmas greetings with those we meet on the track. During those hours, I would reflect on the past year and wonder whether (or when!) we should go back home to Singapore. More often than not, I lose track of time and always find it fascinating that I’ve walked for so long.
After walking for 3 to 4 days in the wilderness, we would reward ourselves with a nice meal, hot shower and of course Wi-Fi. By the time we get back to civilisation and see a Christmas tree, however, Christmas is already over!
About Mei & Rui
In 2013, Mei & Rui decided it’s time to do something different, so they left their jobs in Singapore, packed their bags and flew to New Zealand. They never expect this would turn into quite a long OE. More of their stories at www.mrsjono.blogspot.com.