Culture Fix

Feels like home

October 1, 2010

With Diwali and Christmas approaching two expatriates tell Singapore how they will recreate these festivals here.


Mexico's ambassador to Singapore, Mr Antonio Villegas, and his wife, Claudia (with their younger daughter Rosita) look forward to sharing their traditions at Christmas.

“A family affair”

Christmas is a very important event on the calendar for the Ambassador of the United Mexican States to Singapore, Mr Antonio Guillermo Villegas Villalobos.

“Like most of Latin America, Mexico´s population is Catholic in its majority. Thus, Christmas is a time to be spent with the family, to celebrate life and the many gifts we have received,” he explains.

“Celebrations start one week before Christmas, to commemorate the week the Virgin Mary and her husband, José (Joseph), took to travel seeking refuge for them and the still unborn Jesus Christ, from the persecution of the Romans.”

Ambassador Villegas, who hails from Mexico City, relocated here with his wife Claudia, and daughters Rosita, 5, and Valentina, 12, in November 2009 following his previous post as Mexico’s Ambassador to Peru. So he will be no stranger to a tropical Christmas.

Sharing Traditions

Nonetheless he is looking forward to “learning other traditions and sharing our own here.” Mexican traditions include throwing a posada or “seeking refuge party”.Posadas can happen every day, and often, more than one is held; there can beposadas for children, work mates, neighbours or even members of the community. During a posada, a group, carrying images of, or dressed like the Virgin Mary and Joseph, walk in the streets holding lit candles and singing traditional Christmas carols.

They then arrive at a house, and sing to the other group of people waiting for them inside, asking if they can kindly offer posada or refuge. Traditionally, they keep singing until the group inside lets them in. This signals the start of a big party, featuring typical Mexican Christmas food, dancing, and piñatas (papier-mâché sculptures) full of candies and fruits to be broken for everybody to enjoy.

Meanwhile, Christmas Eve is more a family affair as everyone sits down to a very special dinner comprising different uniquely Mexican dishes. They include the likes of Romeritos with Mole (Mexican vegetables with spicy mole [moh-lay] sauce) as well as turkey (called guajolote in the Aztec language), or cod fish (bacalao).

Rememberance and Thanks

There is then an exchange of presents among family members. Children receive the bulk of the presents, and are told that they were brought by ‘Baby Jesus’ while they were asleep. Overall, it is a night celebrating family, and one of remembrance and giving thanks.

Ambassador Villegas, 63, strives to recreate these traditions here, but concedes that it can be difficult. “We try to have at least one close relative join us. We organise at least one posada party, including the piñata, with other fellow Mexicans or Latin American friends, and invite our host country friends to introduce them to our tradition,” he says.

“We also try, as much of possible, to prepare a dinner as authentically Mexican as possible, and keep the tradition of exchanging presents and have the children receive their additional presents from ‘Baby Jesus’.

At any rate, it continues to be very much a family affair!”

“Open house in Singapore”

“Singapore is a very cosmopolitan city, and all religions are respected.”
Latika Alok, on Diwali celebrations in Singapore


Latika Alok, on Diwali celebrations in Singapore
Latika Alok, who was born, and who grew up in London, has fond memories of celebrating Diwali (as Deepavali is called in North India) in the cosmopolitan city. Also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrations for this festival involve the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Ganesh, the god of auspicious beginnings.

She recalls: “We are North Indian and Diwali marks one of the most important celebrations in our calendar. My memories of Diwali as a child involved spring cleaning our house and decorating every nook and corner, inside and outside. Our house, for a few weeks leading up to the festival, was always full of friends and family.

“We lit small clay lamps, signifying the triumph of good over evil, and welcoming prosperity and well being. We would also wear new clothes, and I remember my mother making our favourite foods, and lots of Indian sweets and special snacks so that we could share them with family and friends.

“She would make a lot of savoury items using different  ours like gram flour and plain flour, and most of them were fried. She also made yummy Indian sweets from milk powder. Back then you could not buy a lot of these items in the shops.”

Since Latika and her senior media executive husband moved to Singapore 18 years ago when he relocated for work, celebrations have been slightly different.

For one, she is glad that Diwali is considered a public holiday here. “As a family, we are able to devote a lot more time to decorating the home. In India and Singapore, the concept of ”open house” is very popular. “This was not possible in London because of the distances [people have to travel],” she explains.

“Here, we are able to make our visit to friends and family that day and share in all their festivities. Our children Nikhil, 13, and Anneka, 11, get together with friends and play with sparklers, which they enjoy.

“Anneka, of course, really enjoys dressing up in her new Indian clothes and helping me to do the rangoli decorations, the flower and coloured-powder decorations featuring religious and geometrical motifs.

“These serve as an invitation to goddess Lakshmi to enter and bless the home.”

Latika, who runs Glitterati, a fashion boutique specialising in haute couture
evening wear, also carries out a small ceremony there to seek the blessings of the wealth goddess Lakshmi for a good year ahead. She would dress the statue in garlands, and make offerings of sweets to it. She will also place her accounts books in front of the statue for them to be blessed, and light clay lamps outside the boutique.

Adds Latika: “Singapore is a very cosmopolitan city, and all religions are respected. I love the way Little India is lit up and decorated. We really enjoy going down to the Diwali markets that are set up, to soak in the atmosphere of the festival.

42-24054666“Even though my children go to an international school, they still learn about Diwali and often come back with handcrafted gifts.”

Her parents, who still live in London, do not join Latika’s family in the celebrations in Singapore.

Says the 40-something: “We call and wish them on Diwali day and get their blessings. My parents are traditional and they don’t believe in leaving their home empty during Diwali as they say that Goddess Lakshmi does not visit an empty home!”

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario