You’ll like it, if you like the holidays, flowers or lights. (And if you don’t, may we call you the Grinch?)
For the past month, it seems like everyone has been talking about Gardens by the Bay’s annual Christmas Wonderland: moms on my condo’s WhatsApp group, people at work, The Straits Times, the TV news – everyone. I already like GBTB – it’s the perfect place to take out-of-town visitors on rainy days, or when it’s crazy hot out and aircon is in order.
But I lived in New York City for more than a decade, and may be spoilt for holiday glitz (see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and iconic department stores’ window displays, for examples). I’ve also visited Europe’s lovely Christmas markets, where folks bundle up to celebrate and shop in the winter cold (thank goodness for gluhwein!). How spectacular could the Garden’s “traditional European Christmas” really be? Short answer: pretty spectacular.
I checked it out with my family on opening night, last Friday, Nov. 27. As soon as I walked past the taxi drop-off and through the Supertrees, I faced the first of the luminarie: Frontone, which took three weeks to set up, as each of the Italian-made parts are assembled by hand. The soft coloured lights and lattice of the luminarie lent a magical feel to the grounds. Immediately, I took a shot of the hubby and baby in front of it for Instagram.
Likewise, Christmas Toyland in the Flower Dome is even better than the Gardens’ recent fairy tale-themed Tulipmania. Its focal point is an 11-metre high Christmas Pyramid that’s decked with toys and has a windmill on top. The poinsettias and amaryllis took me right back to North America, as did the faux fireplace that’s reminiscent of the U.S. Yule Log TV tradition. I couldn’t resist touching the “snow” underneath the snowfamily nesting dolls – it felt like that fun squishy sand for kids.
Though we got lost three (count ‘em, three) times trying to find the fair, once we made it there, things felt truly festive. The Garden Rhapsody (Christmas Edition) had the Supertrees lighting up in sync with classic carols. There were cottages where you could order food and drink (sadly, no gluhwein), plus classic fair games with prizes and even an Ice Palace skating rink (though the line was pretty long by 8 p.m.). Of all of the rides at the fair – including a carousel, Helter Skelter slide, trackless train and swinging chairs – I was most bummed I didn’t get to go on the chairs (reason: wearing the baby). It offers a panoramic view of the grounds from above. Cool.
The big event at the opening was the lighting of the largest luminarie, Spalliera, which ties the Ice Palace for tallest light sculpture at the Gardens at 20 metres. After it was officially on and glowing (a little later than planned), the nightly Blizzard Time started – when snow is shot into the air inside the Spalliera. Then, a Singaporean band of bag pipers made its way into the area, playing Christmas carols. It was quite a combo of cultures (Italian, Scottish and Singaporean, among others), but it worked. I guess you can say that about a lot of this country.
One tip: Plan to make two trips to Christmas Wonderland – at 35,000-square metres, it’s a lot of territory to cover in one night!
By Sara Lyle Bow, November 2015
Photos: Sara Lyle Bow