Orchard Road Christmas light-up: 40 years on, a look back at some hits – and misses

SINGAPORE – It is the end of the year again and there is always some seasonal nostalgia for the good old days – like when A.I. Artificial Intelligence was just a 2001 movie, certificates of entitlement were $1 and Christmas decorations in Orchard Road were simply light bulbs strung between lamp posts.

Looking back, the first Christmas lights in Singapore’s shopping street debuted in December 1984. That was a very simple affair with 100,000 light bulbs adorning the stretch of Orchard Road from the junction at Orange Grove Road to the Istana in Dhoby Ghaut.

There was also a shorter stretch of lights between the Scotts Road junction at Goodwood Park and Orchard Road.

On Christmas Eve that year, the size of the crowd on the streets reportedly numbered 30,000, and some businesses registered an uptick in trade of between 10 and 20 per cent.

Since then, the Christmas light-ups have attracted much larger crowds. The last edition was staged from Nov 12, 2022, to Jan 2, 2023, attracting more than four million visitors.

The increasingly creative and elaborate designs certainly added to the appeal.

In 2010, the light-up design, which was attributed to Mr Edward Tang, creative director of design firm ModernAge, was even picked by travel guide Frommer’s as one of the World’s Best Holiday Lights.

Over the years, the light-ups have won accolades from the international travel industry community, including Lonely Planet and TripExpert.

Other notable designers have included French lighting consultant Louis Clair, who was appointed for the 2000 and 2001 light-ups. Singaporean Dick Lee, whose many appellations include singer-songwriter, was also creative director for several light-ups, most recently in 2015.

The 2023 year-end design is the creative work of two landscape artists: Andy Cao, who is based in the United States and Vietnam, and Xavier Perrot, who is based in France. The duo also conceptualised the designs in 2020 and 2021.

As emphasis on new designs increased, so did the public’s expectations. In some years, the designs have been criticised for being too lacklustre or even too commercialised. 

The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) has been organising the light-up since 2009. Its chairman, Mr Mark Shaw, says Orba endeavours to make the light-ups an inclusive event every year.

He adds: “We select the design theme for the Orchard Road Christmas light-up by way of a tender which takes into account Singapore’s multiracial, multicultural society.”

The light-ups have also become bigger over the years. Orba does not comment on budgets, but says that the year-end design for 2023 has more stakeholders and partners involved than in previous years. 

Now called Christmas On A Great Street, the 2023 light-up is an experiential and immersive event that includes an augmented-reality projection show and six zones with music. 

There are also three Christmas Villages compared with just one in 2022, plus the first Christmas Eve street party in Orchard Road.

The Singapore Tourism Board is a key supporter of the event, and Hitachi Asia has been the main sponsor for 33 consecutive years, with Mastercard the official credit card for 11 years running.

Mr Shaw says: “This year, we are recycling and reusing many elements of the installations. We also chose wire mesh instead of single-use plastics for the clouds to ensure that more of the decor can be repurposed next year.”

The predominant design motif in 2023’s decorations is the cloud, which Mr Shaw says evokes children’s dreams of “imagination and innocence”. 

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