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Styrofoam Snowmen, Curried Turkey: Christmas Is Different At The Equator

December 20, 1988

SINGAPORE (AP) _ The Santa Claus shortage has been averted and it looks like Christmas as usual at the equator this year.

In this steamy tropical land, Christmas is Styrofoam snowmen and chestnuts roasted by street vendors in shorts. Department store Santas are flown in from Finland, and the turkey is often curried.

Most Singaporeans have never seen snow, let alone a reindeer. But ″I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas″ and ″Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer″ have been broadcast staples for weeks.

Any danger that a shortage of Santas might dampen the holiday spirit ended when more than 100 American tourists dressed as Santa Claus started arriving in early December.

Part of a ″Santa goodwill tour″ by the Telephone Pioneers of America, a charitable organization, they play Santa for charity while traveling each Christmas.

Toys ‘R’ Us and a few other stores won’t have Santas because, in the words of one merchant, ″it is hard to find a suitable candidate.″

But one department store, Robinson’s, flew in a man from Finland who store spokeswoman Lena Phua claims is ″the real Santa.″ While his birth certificate identifies him as Saastamoinen Seppo, the resident of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland is the real thing, she insisted.

Illuminated trumpets, silver bells, angels, candles, fir trees, snowflakes, reindeer, lanterns, yule logs, fairy lights and other glitter adorn shopping centers and hotels.

Street vendors in T-shirts and shorts sell roasted chestnuts. The Centerpoint shopping center spent $207,254 on its fairytale Christmas theme, decorating its building as a medieval castle.

All this in a country 85 miles north of the equator where the average daily temperature is 80 degrees.

Only about 200,000 of the 2.6 million people in this island republic profess to being Christians, according to the last census in 1980. But apart from the country’s independence day holiday in August, no other period comes close to be being celebrated by the entire population.

The observance of Christmas, a British colonial import, appears to have intensified in recent years among a population that is 76 percent Chinese, 15 percent Malay and 6 percent Indian.

It blends Western trimmings with an Oriental flavor.

Roast turkey with stuffing is available, but so are a variety of other dishes based on the traditional bird, including curried turkey and turkey noodles.

The ″singing Christmas Tree,″ a multi-tiered stage in the shape of a tree for a choir from the Trinity Christian Center, has been a yuletide feature in recent years. In 1986, 27 men and women caroled their way into the Guinness Book of World Records by singing for more than 74 hours, ending at 1:05 a.m. Christmas morning.

Reporter Thelma Sim lamented in The Sunday Times that local carols in the Malay language, such as Ang Pasko ay Sumapit (Christmas is Here Again) or Pasko sa aming Nayon (Christmas in My Little Town), were neglected in favor of old favorites from the West.

″Deejays also play foreign carols on the air more than they do the native ones ... Fake snow, fireplaces and Styrofoam snowmen are often found in Christmas decorations in homes, department stores and offices,″ she wrote.

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