A Corona Christmas: How Foreigners in Singapore Are Spending Their Holidays

Volodymyr Hryshchenko/Unsplash
Volodymyr Hryshchenko/Unsplash

The festive season is typically a time for us to gather with our loved ones and our friends, to celebrate the end of the year, and give thanks for the year that has passed – all while looking forward to the new year ahead. Around this time of the year, we think about spending time with those that matter to us, whether it’s to catch up over lost time, or simply to celebrate, because we’ve made it through another year.

Christmas also provides a certain atmosphere: shopping malls adorned with festive decorations and music (cue Michael Bublé ‘s entire Christmas album), cooler (rainier) weather things which seem to ignite a warm, fuzzy feeling within us.

All is fine and dandy, until we realise that it’s still 2020.

‘Tis the season to stay in Singapore

There is no denying that 2020 has been a difficult year (thanks, coronavirus). As the world edges towards finding a reliable vaccine for the virus, many countries are still grappling with new confirmed cases, or are preparing themselves for another wave of infection. As much as Singapore has been able to control the spread of the virus, we aren’t completely out of the woods either.

Perhaps one of the biggest disruptions in our holiday rituals would be the lack of a year-end getaway, which is almost a staple for many Singaporeans. While us Singaporeans are busy trying to emulate a getaway by using our SingapoREdiscover vouchers, there are some who have been affected by the travel restrictions more profoundly.

One of these groups are foreigners who are working in Singapore, a pretty sizeable population of a whopping 1,351,800 individuals as of June 2020.

Athena, 32, has been working in Singapore since 2016. She typically takes time off at the end of the year so that she can fly back home to her hometown, Leyte, in the Philippines, to spend the holidays with her family. One of the highlights of the holidays for her is welcoming the new year, which she says has been a family tradition for as long as she can remember.

“It’s actually my second time spending the holidays here. The first time was in 2016, when I just arrived [in Singapore]. At that time I didn’t have enough money to afford a ticket back home,” she said.

Creating a semblance of home

Although Athena has found herself stuck in Singapore again this year, she says that “this year is quite bearable since I have my housemates”. Together with her housemates, who are also fellow Filipinos, she says that their Christmas celebrations include observing Noche Buena, a Filipino tradition of sharing a feast before Christmas Day, and doing a gift exchange.

“The holidays are a time for family and rest. I always look forward to it because [I can] spend quality time with family. [Right now] I’m just thankful for technology, as it makes contacting my family a lot easier. My siblings have also been very encouraging; we’ve made plans to spend the holiday season together virtually as well,” said Athena.

Despite the distance between Athena and her family, she says that she is still thankful for her work in Singapore, and for her health. “It has been quite tough for most families across the world, but I’m just thankful that no matter how far I am, they are all well. That’s something I hope for everyone at the moment.”

A time for rest

While Athena and her housemates are making the best of Christmas by reviving some of their cultural traditions, others have opted for a more relaxed approach to the holidays.

Rachel, 39, typically spends her year-end travelling with her family, or flies back home to Indonesia to celebrate. “I’m a little sad that I won’t be able to see my family and friends back home, but I don’t think my current situation is that bad, maybe I’ll just do a video call with my family and friends,” she told TheHomeGround Asia.

To her, the festive season is a time for relaxation, and for catching up with friends. However, she reveals that she hasn’t made plans for Christmas. “Maybe I’ll just laze around,” she said, laughing.

A devout Christian, she remains thankful to God for the people in her life, regardless of whether they’re in Singapore or Indonesia. “These are people that God has sent to me to show that He cares for me, so I don’t feel so lonely.”

Just like any other weekend

In a similar vein, Arul, 38, will spend the holiday season the same way he spends his weekends, either at the gym, or with his friends. “There aren’t many options available here in Singapore,” he said.

Unable to go back to India to be with his family, and travel with them, his dreams of an ideal holiday have been dashed. “I hoped that I would be able to stay in a nice hotel, have good food, sit at the beach, and visit tourist attractions, but I have to stay in Singapore this year.”

Reflecting on his situation, Arul remains hopeful that things will improve in 2021. “Not many good things have happened this year, but I am thankful that I have been in good health.”

So whether we’ll be spending the rest of the year rediscovering Singapore, feasting with our families within the stipulated group sizes, or partying with our friends while adhering to safe distancing measures, let’s not forget about those like Athena, Rachel and Arul, who may not have the liberty of being with their families, so that we can all make the best out of our corona Christmas.

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