SINGAPORE (Nov 26): A Christmas market held on Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, France was known to draw some 15 million festive revellers annually. Romanticised as the most beautiful avenue in the world, this famed street would undergo a year-end transformation that further enhanced its allure with a dazzling display of holiday lights and decorations and traditional market stalls that, along with Christmas carollers, formed an experience commonly likened to fairy tales and magic.

At least, that was the case up until two years ago. A recent conflict between the market’s organiser Marcel Campion and the Parisian government has put a seemingly final end to that tradition: first, with the abrupt cancellation of the event in 2017, followed by the recent announcement of its return this year — at Jardin des Tuileries located just opposite the Louvre. 

While the Champs-Élysées Christmas market may never find its way back to the original venue, its enduring intrigue was among the reasons for Blue Sky Events to bring the magic of these Christmas markets in Europe to Singapore.

Named Christmas Wonderland, the event made its debut at Gardens by the Bay in November 2014 as Singapore’s biggest Yuletide fair. It has since attracted close to 3.5 million visitors over the years. The fifth edition is slated to take place from Nov 30 to Dec 26 this year, with brand-new concepts as well as enhancements to returning highlights and attractions.

“Christmas Wonderland was created with the desire to give families and friends a traditional Yuletide event to enjoy during the year-end holiday season. We wanted to create a special avenue for people to gather with their friends and loved ones across generations, races and cultures in a format that is accessible to all,” says Sarah Martin, creative director of Blue Sky Events.

Festival of lights

With an upsized Santa’s Grotto attraction decked out in festive lights and structures, including  a kinetic light installation from Germany, Christmas Wonderland 2018 promises to be even more Instagram-worthy than its predecessors. But the biggest draw is still undoubtedly the event’s mainstay Luminarie (“light” in Italian) sculptures, which skilled craftsmen from Italy were commissioned to build using white wood from the south of Italy. The result is an extensive display of luminarie artworks throughout the fair’s premises, ranging from solo pieces to arches, as well as a 21m-tall Christmas tree said to be the tallest of its kind in Asia. For the first time, a luminarie mirror maze will also be built for visitors to weave their way through at the heart of Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove.

“The luminarie sculptures are created by Namaste Europa [a production company headquartered in Switzerland], which works closely with the Paulicelli family, well-renowned for their beautiful luminarie creations throughout Italy. This is an art form that has been passed from one generation to the next. The lights have unique designs and are handmade,” Martin tells Options.

“Luminaries are typically built for festive seasons and provide a natural gathering point for large crowds of people to admire something that is very beautiful. In fact, 11 men spent an entire month building these sculptures, where every single bulb is individually placed and pieced together to form the entire structure.”

Magical moments

Headlining the Christmas Wonderland entertainment calendar is illusionist Rob Lake, who has received numerous accolades including The Merlin Award for International Stage Magician of the Year in 2008. More recently, he made it to the quarter-finals of America’s Got Talent 2018. He will be staging his show The Magic of Rob Lake* at The Meadows’ performance tent on Dec 3, 10 and 17. Lake says: “I’ve picked out some of my great, interactive illusions [for my performance at Christmas Wonderland]. I want the audience to experience the magic — I can’t reveal too many surprises!”

Coinciding with the Christmas Wonderland festivities is also Poinsettia Wishes Featuring Disney Tsum Tsum*, Gardens by the Bay’s seasonal floral display in the Flower Dome. In the conservatory, Disney favourites such as Olaf the Snowman from Frozen will be displayed against a holiday landscape of poinsettias, Christmas berries and holly.

Fun, food and games

As always, visitors can look forward to the popular annual attraction Blizzard Time, where bubble foam “snow” makes it look, if not feel, like winter in the tropics. This year’s outdoor skating rink*, imported from Switzerland, is even larger than the previous year’s and will feature an 8m-tall illuminated Christmas tree in the middle.

Aside from carnival game stalls, choral performances and inflatable gingerbread houses for children to play in, the Festive Market is another main attraction for families. This year, there will be a total of 24 wooden huts modelled after traditional European Christmas markets. “The F&B vendors at the Festive Market this year will offer mouth-watering dishes and snacks from various cuisines. Furthermore, craft vendors will be selling unique gifts that will be perfect Christmas presents for your loved ones,” says Martin.  

The bite-sized format of Savour Gourmet Festival, dubbed “A Slice of Savour”, is offering a new “accessible gourmet comfort food” concept for the first time at the fair. Monti, Blue Lotus and Saint Pierre are just some of the big restaurant names in the local F&B industry to offer their dishes for as little as $6 a pop, and these will be available alongside Christmas-themed cocktails made exclusively for Christmas Wonderland by Three Wisemen.

“Christmas has always been a time and place where people get together and reconnect. [Since the inception of Christmas Wonderland in 2014], Gardens by the Bay has been transformed every single year into a wonderful festive landscape that provides families with the opportunity to come together and celebrate Christmas,” says Martin. This year will surely be no exception.

Visit www.christmaswonderland.sg for updates and more information. *Additional ticketing fees, aside from the $4 entry fee to Christmas Wonderland, apply.