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Home for the Holidays
GOING ALL OUT FOR CHRISTMAS
December is the favourite month of the year for Mark Siow. “There’s something special about it – lots of good spirits and good mood,” he says. “I like to channel these vibes into my home.”
Christmas decorating is a serious affair for the banker, whose Marine Parade apartment has been dressed up in festive flair for the past 15 years.
In early December, he pulls out his massive collection of Christmas ornaments from the storeroom. Some of the pieces are over a decade old, but they still look brand new under his care.
Mr Siow carefully considers which ornaments to display. “I’m constantly buying new pieces, so those naturally get displayed,” he says. On a recent trip to Kyoto, he purchased two wooden Santa dolls, and a small vase in the shape of a dove, which he has filled with branches of red berries.
A shelf in the living room and his bedroom are cleared out for their annual role as display space for his seasonal trinkets. “Usually, I have books there, but they make way for the Christmas ornaments,” he says.
He reckons he must have spent over S$20,000 on Christmas decorations over the last one-and-a-half decades. The most expensive is a Christmas-themed vintage TV set, with a ‘screen’ that depicts a snowy village scene. The life-sized TV which also plays Christmas songs, costs S$1000, but he loves it so much that he bought a miniature one, some years later.
This year, Mr Siow has ramped up his Christmas decor with a live Christmas tree, something he had never had before. “My apartment isn’t big, so I usually just have stalks of red berries in a large vase. But this year, I decided to get a tree, and it is amazing how it adds to the festive mood,” he says.
He even walked down Orchard Road looking at different trees for inspiration, before settling on a white and gold theme which “is less common, and not too loud.”
His mother, who lives with him, used to chide him for spending so much money and time on decorating the home for Christmas, but “she has come around to the idea, and loves it as much as I do,” he says.
On Christmas Eve, Mr Siow’s brother and his family, together with some aunts come over for dinner. Their mum cooks pasta and soup, while he orders in a turkey and ham.
“Besides having a meal together, this is more an opportunity for us to take many family photos,” he says. His young nephews have pestered him to let them see the apartment, but he is keeping it a surprise till Christmas.
For now, he kicks back on his sofa each evening, watching the lights twinkling on the Christmas tree. “I feel a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” he grins.
MAKING AND KEEPING TRADITIONS
For entrepreneur Eugenia Ye-Yeo, Christmas is about keeping her own family traditions alive, while making new ones with Song, her businessman husband, and their two children, Luke and Lyanna. Ms Ye-Yeo is the founder of Nodspark nail wraps and Hafbox, which sells wellness products for seniors. “Christmas is all about traditions,” she says.
When she was still living with her parents, Ms Ye-Yeo would help out with the Christmas cooking, slicing up vegetables to be roasted. Now, she still returns home to help her mum for the Ye family Christmas dinner.
She still remembers Christmas mornings when her mum would make French toast for her. “Even though I hardly cook, I follow in mum’s footsteps and do the same for my kids.”
The Yeos have also started a tradition of their own. For the past two Christmas Eves, the family of four would bring out their tents and spend the night in the living room of their three-storey house at Novena, which they share with Mr Yeo’s parents and brother. “The kids usually sleep in their own rooms, so this is a special treat for the whole family to wake up together on Christmas Day,” says Ms Ye-Yeo.
When it comes to the Christmas tree, she also sticks to tradition. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always stuck to a red and gold theme.” Besides store-bought baubles and ribbons, there are ornaments that Luke made in school.
Elsewhere in the home, Ms Ye-Yeo adds little festive touches and decorative pieces. “Nothing too dramatic, because I don’t want them to vie for attention with the family’s collection of Chinese art and porcelain pieces,” she says.
A wall decoration made from artificial fir and red berries adds colour to an otherwise bare wall. In the sitting room, a pair of antique musical boxes in red and green dominate the coffee table. On side consoles in other parts of the home stand little pots of Christmas greens. Even the powder room gets a festive touch.
Ms Ye-Yeo says that since she was a child, Christmas has always been a noisy affair. “I come from a close-knit family and we would visit our friends from church to sing Christmas carols,” she says. This year, her sister who lives in Melbourne will be visiting and there will be carolling too.
She will be hosting at least four Christmas parties for friends and family. A perennial favorite is Beef Wellington from Marriott Hotel. This year, she will also be ordering roast beef and other side dishes from Jam at Siri House.
When it comes to shopping for gifts, Ms Ye-Yeo relies on a spreadsheet she specially created. “It contains a list of gifts that I’ve bought for the last three years, so that I won’t end up buying something too similar,” she says.
Ms Ye-Yeo says her most memorable Christmas was the last one spent at her parents’ home a few years ago. “It was the last Christmas before I got married, so I told myself I must enjoy every moment of it.”
CHRISTMAS MELTING POT
Ask Korea-born Yujin Lee Evered what’s special about Christmas in Singapore and she says, “It is a multinational and multicultural affair.”
Ms Lee Evered, who is the Asia-Pacific regional president for Unit 4, a global software provider and her retiree English husband, Nick, always stay put in Singapore for Christmas. The couple are now naturalised Singaporeans.
“The people who come to our Christmas parties are an eclectic group. We welcome our friends of different nationalities who can’t be with their family over the festive period, and our Singaporean friends.” Once, they had guests from seven nationalities. In addition, Ms Lee Evered’s father, his partner and her family will fly in from Korea to spend Christmas with them.
One year, Mr Evered even cooked a halal Christmas dinner for a family of Malay friends who came over, while still cooking a traditional Christmas menu. “We made sure the halal and non-halal dishes were cooked in different parts of the home,” he says.
He fondly recalls another incident when Ms Lee Evered’s Korean grandmother visited, and another friend’s English mum was also present. “The two elderly ladies didn’t speak a common language. But by the end of the night, they were holding hands, laughing and happily chatting to each other, one in Korean and one in English,” he says.
The Evereds have their Christmas routine down pat. In early December, they dress up their Christmas tree, topping it with an angel figurine. About a decade ago they relied on generic store-bought ornaments but over the years, they have added more destination-related and personalised items. Now, a Buckingham Palace ornament sits next to the Statue of Liberty. Other trinkets from New Zealand, Rajasthan, Brugge and the Netherlands complete the look.
“We are reminded of our trips with these ornaments. But funnily, we’ve yet to find one from Korea,” says Ms Lee Evered. They also have Westie and terrier-shaped ornaments, to represent their three dogs.
The banister leading to the upper floors of their terrace home at Upper East Coast is adorned with Christmas socks, lights and red and gold baubles. “Nick is the engineer, making sure that the lights work and nothing falls off, while I design the overall look.”
Her husband is also in charge of cooking Christmas Day lunch. The menu includes turkey, sausage stuffing, roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, baked cauliflower with cheese, chocolate, Christmas pudding, mince pie and shortbread. Some of the prep work is done a few days before but on Christmas morning it is full steam ahead for Mr Evered, who has a spreadsheet of cooking times, and different alarms to ensure lunch is ready to be served at 2pm. “Christmas is about a big feast with family and friends,” he says.
Some years, the couple host over 25 guests and extra tables and chairs have to be rented. Guests usually arrive slightly before noon for small bites, and the exchange of gifts. Guests are encouraged to bring with them Christmas crackers to add to the fun. After lunch, guests mingle and party on, sometimes staying till midnight.
On the first weekend in January, the decorations come down, and it also marks the time when Ms Lee Evered’s father returns home. “It is usually a sad time then,” she says.
Ms Lee Evered adds, “Christmas used to be a transient event, but since we got married 10 years ago, we started a solid Evered Christmas tradition.”
MORE FUN WITH KIDS
Growing up in Beijing, Christmas for Janna Wan was pretty much another day of the year. “It is not a public holiday, and most people would spend the day shopping because the stores would offer big discounts,” says the marketing director. “We would exchange gifts with friends, but it was never seen as a day to spend time with family.”
That changed when Ms Wan and American Matthew Burke, a director at an interior design firm, got married almost 10 years ago. “Christmas started becoming more about celebrating with family,” says Ms Wan.
The festivities have grown into a bigger affair, now that they have two kids - six-year-old Aiden and Alexis, who is three.
“Christmas is definitely more fun with the kids,” says Mr Burke. One year, when Aiden was still a baby, they took him to Nashville to visit his grand aunt. “My grandma was there as well, and for the first time, we had four generations of Burkes at Christmas.”
In December, taking the kids to see the Christmas lights in Orchard Road is an annual ritual. The kids believe in Santa Claus and so they have been on their best behaviour. “With them around, opening up presents is more fun too,” says Ms Wan.
While Mr Burke is a designer by profession, it is his wife who handles the Christmas decor of their apartment off Farrer Road.
The entire family gets involved in dressing up the tree. Some ornaments have sentimental value, like a snowman given by the kids’ great grandma, and a sphinx which Mr Burke bought at the British Museum for Ms Wan, who loves all things Egyptian.
There are personalised Christmas socks hung up on the bedroom doors, as well as an advent sock calendar. Miniature Santa Claus dolls hang off the dining room lamp while a large bouquet of poinsettias add colour to the dining table.
Growing up in Ohio, Mr Burke would spend Christmas feasting and visiting his grandmother’s and aunt’s home. But here in Singapore, it is more about celebrating with friends. “There are house parties, we invite friends over, and it is a potluck meal,” he says. This year, his mother who has never been to Singapore will be coming over for Christmas. “She usually has a white Christmas, so a tropical Christmas will be totally new to her,” he says. In turn, Ms Wan’s parents visit for Chinese New Year.
While most family stow their Christmas tree away by early January, the Burkes leave theirs up. “We try to get as much mileage out of it,” says Mr Burke.
His wife adds that the Christmas ornaments are replaced with little red ribbons that she ties, dressing up the tree for Chinese New Year. “We leave the Christmas lights on the tree, and we enjoy the festivities for longer.”