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Season’s Greetings from ACM. This December, LET'S LEARN ABOUT...Christmas!


Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who they regard as the saviour of humans. He is the son of the Christian God, and he died on the cross to relieve them of their sins. Christmas is commemorated around the world on 25 December every year. Let’s find out more about this holiday.


1) When is Christmas celebrated?


In Singapore, we celebrate Christmas on 25 December, and it is one of our National Holidays. The Nativity, the story of Christ's birth, is often retold on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services in churches. Carols are also sung in celebration.


In the Orthodox Church, Christmas is celebrated on 7 January, as they follow the Julian calendar. The Orthodox Christmas Eve meal on 6 January is an important tradition, and typically consists of 12 meat-free dishes that represent the 12 apostles of Christ.


2)  What is the story of Jesus’ birth?


Jesus’ birth story, called the Nativity, describes how he was born in humble surroundings in a town called Bethlehem, and that he slept in a manger (feed trough) since there was no crib. After his birth, local shepherds, the Three Wise Men, and others visited his parents, Mary and Joseph. The visitors were guided by a bright star that appeared in the sky, and they all experienced great joy and hope.


3) How is Christmas celebrated around Asia?


Christians and many non-Christians take part in Christmas celebrations and festivities. It’s a time when family and friends come together to share food, exchange presents, appreciate their loved ones, and remember the good things they have.


Different countries in Asia have different Christmas traditions. The Philippines has a large Roman Catholic population, and Christmas is celebrated from September until January. One of their most well-known traditions is Simbang Gabi, a nightly Mass held from 16 December until Christmas Eve. In Singapore, shopping streets and buildings are decorated with Christmas trees and lights, and people may celebrate with roast turkey dinners and Christmas log cakes. In southern India, mango and banana trees are decorated as Christmas trees.


The Christmas tree is a recognisable part of many Christmas celebrations. A star is usually placed on top of the tree, to represent the star that announced Christ's birth in Bethlehem. For many, the star symbolises hope for humanity.




In the spirit of Christmas, we present to you these three objects from our Christian Art Gallery located on Level 2 of the museum.


Hanging ornaments


Hanging ornaments

Turkey, Kütahya, 18th century




Here is a set of seven egg-shaped ornaments, decorated with angels, crosses, and flowers. Made of glazed ceramic, these ornaments are hollow and have holes at the top and bottom. They can be hung from a ceiling, sometimes strung together.


These ornaments were made for the Armenian community and churches in Turkey and Jerusalem. In Singapore, the Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator – commonly called the Armenian Church – is Singapore’s oldest Christian church (1835). Located on Hill Street, it is just around the corner from ACM’s sister museum, the Peranakan Museum, which is on Armenian Street (named for the church).


Shrine with painting of Holy Family and John the Baptist

Shrine with painting of Holy Family and John the Baptist

Japan, 17th century

Shrine: lacquer and gold on wood, mother-of-pearl, metal mounts

Painting: oil on copper



The painting inside this small, elegant shrine shows the Holy Family – the child Christ and his parents Mary and Joseph – and his cousin John the Baptist is on the right.

The doors of the shrine are decorated with birds and trees in Japanese lacquer techniques. Lacquer comes from the sap of various lac trees, and is painted in many layers onto the surface of objects like wood furniture to make them more durable and look glossy. Then sparkly materials like mother-of-pearl and gold can be inlaid into the wet lacquer, which hardens when it dries. 



Virgin and Child with John the Baptist


Virgin and Child with John the Baptist

Muhammad Zaman (active 1649–1700)

Iran, signed and dated 1682–83

Colour and gold on paper



This painting shows a seated Virgin Mary holding her son Jesus Christ on her lap, who looks at the young John the Baptist with a lamb beside them. In the background is a broken building column, signalling the scene is in the past. On the left is an oak tree. The painting has been pasted onto an album page with colourful borders of flowers, birds, and trailing vines on a blue background.

The Persian artist, Muhammad Zaman, was very much influenced by European painting styles. He might have studied with a European artist, or seen European Christian paintings or prints to learn from.




Head to NHB’s one-stop heritage portal Roots.sg to read more about some of the objects featured:


Shrine with painting of Holy Family and John the Baptist

Virgin and Child with John the Baptist


Want more of these resources? Come back to learn new things every month.

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There’s more!

Check out other videos and download e-resources inspired by the objects in ACM’s collection.