For Many, There’s More To December Than Christmastime – By Expat Andrea McKenna

19 December 2017

By Finder Blogger: Andrea McKenna


It’s definitely a habit to say, “Merry Christmas” in Singapore rather than the West’s politically correct “Happy Holidays,” which is meant to include Chanukah and even Kwanza, which happens to fall close to Christmas.

Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates 8 days of light over darkness when a group of the faithful defeated the Greeks who were trying to force their beliefs on them. When they regained the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they found only one day’s worth of olive oil to light the Menorah (a 7-branched candle holder). The miracle was that the oil lasted a full 8 days, hence the tradition arose of lighting the Menora for eight days in a row. One these days, children receives gifts. This year, it ran from 12th to 20th, just before Christmas.

This year, Chanukah coincided with Christmas leadup of Advent, which started in early December and culminates with Christmas Eve on the 24th and Christmas Day on the 25th. The Christmas story tells of the birth of the Christ child, with many Christians and non-Christians celebrating with trees, shopping, food, decoration and Santa. One trip down Orchard Road or Tanglin Mall will get you into the spirit that promotes good will towards all men.

In places outside of Asia, mainly the United States, it is becoming more common to express holiday spirit with the generic “Happy holidays!” salutation. That makes sense, as it is a more populous place with more people celebrating Chanukah or maybe not aligning the season with the Christian religion.

Around here I just hear “Merry Christmas!” more often. I think generally there are more Christians here and it is a more ubiquitous holiday with themes of giving and shopping even over the religious overtones.

Nevertheless, it’s good to understand how other religions celebrate. Certainly, while living here, I’ve had to learn about the nuances and traditions of Chinese New Year, Vesak Day and Deepavali. I end up saying “Happy holiday!” a lot because sometimes I just don’t know what’s appropriate to say!

And I learned that technique a long time ago at college. I went to a university in Boston which had a high Jewish population and I learned from a few friends there to say, “Happy holiday!” during their high holidays and Chanukah. It covered it. So, I made sure I applied it in places I lived where both winter holidays are celebrated.

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting that both Jewish and Christian holidays occur around the Winter Solstice? According to, there is a rabbinic story explains why festivals like Hanukkah and Christmas occur at this time. In the tale, Adam notices the days becoming shorter and gets worried that light will disappear. But because of the Winter Solstice on the 25th of the Hebrew month that Hanukkah comes out of, Adam realizes the days will get longer again and feels grateful for the returning light.  Elisheva Carlebach, a professor of History at Columbia University, says she thinks the story is a way of explaining why both Jews and Christians have a festival of lights in the darkest season. “It’s a kind of oblique acknowledgement that there is some common impulse for people to face with darkness with light.”

Whichever holiday you celebrate, I hope you and your family bring the light and enjoy these special days. Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah and happy, happy holidays to all!


About Andrea McKenna

image: E. Chiau

Andrea McKenna Brankin is journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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