Christmas on A Great Street 2023

Christmas on A Great Street 2023

by Edmund O'Connell on Dec 24 2023

Orchard Road certainly put on an amazing show this 2023 Christmas celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Christmas illumination. Christmas lights on this our most famous shopping boulevard is a tradition that commenced in December 1984. Back then, a far more modest 100,000 light bulbs twinkled along the stretch from Orange Grove Road to the Istana in Dhoby Ghaut, a simple yet charming beginning to what would ultimately  become an internationally acclaimed spectacle.

Through the years, these Christmas light displays have garnered accolades from esteemed titles such as Lonely Planet and TripExpert, becoming a beacon of holiday spirit and creativity. The 2023 design, a brainchild of landscape artists Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot, continued this legacy. Cao, with roots in the United States and Vietnam, and Perrot, from France, were also the maestros behind the 2020 and 2021 designs.

img0014-1.jpgOrchard Rd Xmas lights in 1988 - Source: Ministry of Information & the Arts Collection

The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), helming the event since 2009 under the stewardship of Mr. Mark Shaw, has consistently sought to make the light-up an inclusive and immersive experience. Now rebranded as Christmas On A Great Street the 2023 event transcended the ordinary, incorporating an augmented-reality projection show and six melodious zones, transforming the street into an experiential wonderland.

Notably, the celebration expanded to three Christmas Villages, compared to a solitary one in 2022, and introduced the first Christmas Eve street party in Orchard Road's history continuing well into the night on Christmas eve. Supported fervently by the Singapore Tourism Board and generously sponsored by Hitachi Asia for 33 years, with Mastercard as the official credit card for over a decade, the event's array of attractions was nothing short of spectacular:

  1. Community Chest Light-Up Ceremony: A philanthropic start on November 16 at Shaw House Urban Plaza.
  2. Great Christmas Villages: A triad of festive hubs, including Shaw House Urban Plaza, Plaza Singapura, and Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, offering everything from carnival delights to artistic performances.
  3. Outdoor Multimedia 3D & AR Projection Show: An innovative fusion of technology and art gracing Orchard Road.
  4. Music In The Air: Harmonious Christmas melodies embellishing the ambiance.
  5. Orchard Road’s Pop-Up Extravaganza: A kaleidoscope of temporary stores and striking set pieces.
  6. The Great Christmas Eve Street Party: A transformation of the road into a vibrant party zone.

carousel.pngThe sublime double level Carousel at Shaw House Urban Plaza

Your author, who braved the street party on Christmas Eve, can assure you there were hordes of people attending this spectacle. Merely walking down beneath this facade of festivity and light, a different narrative was quietly unfolding. A recent CNA report titled No Christmas cheer for some retailers along Orchard Road reveals that despite the grandeur, retailers along Orchard Road witnessed a decline in both foot traffic and sales, casting a shadow over the retail sector's recovery in the post-COVID era. Several factors contributed to this downturn:

  • Overseas Travel A significant number of Singaporeans chose to holiday abroad.
  • Inflation Concerns: The rising cost of living led to more guarded spending habits.
  • Weak Malaysian Ringgit: An incentive for locals to spend across the border.
  • COVID-19 Resurgence: Continuing to instill a sense of caution among consumers.
  • Tourist Arrivals: Not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, affecting the shopper influx.

This quieter year-end, with some retailers experiencing a 30-40% slump in business, beckons a crucial inquiry: Is the retail sector truly rebounding post-COVID? While some establishments managed to hold steady, the general landscape appeared fraught with challenges. The dazzling attractions, though visually arresting, did not catalyse the anticipated retail surge.

This juxtaposition of celebratory vibrancy and diminishing customer engagement illuminates the intricate dynamics of the post-pandemic retail world. As Singapore strides into 2024, the focus may well need to pivot from mere spectacle to a nuanced understanding of evolving consumer behaviours in a world forever altered by the pandemic and the relentless rise of internet shopping.

Chatter on platforms like Reddit reflect a mixed sentiment, with some opining that Orchard Road caters more to tourists than Singaporeans. However, such views perhaps overlook the global renown and tourism magnetism of Orchard Road. A glance towards London’s one grand Oxford Street, now filled with tacky American Candy and cheap luggage stores, serves as a cautionary tale. Decline can happen fast.

It is imperative for Singapore to remain vigilant. Mall owners, often the faceless institutional investors behind REITs, should tread carefully with rental strategies. A thriving Orchard Road is not just a commercial artery but a cultural and social landmark for Singapore. The city-state, along with its denizens, would undoubtedly feel a profound sense of loss should this iconic boulevard ever wane in its lustre and appeal.