Since moving to UK, celebrating Christmas with my family in Malaysia have been few and far between. In fact the last time was about 8 years ago so you can imagine my elation at being able to spend this year with them. I’ve been blessed though with my little family here and have many happy memories of Our Yuletide celebrations. My favourite was always Christmas Eve when my son Ethan and daughter Sasha were little and their immense excitement at leaving a mince pie, carrot and Baileys for Santa. Yes Baileys as the Santa who visited our home was partial to it instead of milk! Year in and year out I would never tire of seeing their faces light up as they shouted ‘he’s been’! My husband had a lovely tradition from his childhood of making footprints with the aid of talcum powder which added to the magic. Well until the day when my daughter found a photo of him with his feet doused in talcum powder. Thank god my brain managed to swiftly make up some sort of cock and bull story which she believed!
Now that they’re all grown up and Santa is devoid of Baileys and mince pies, it’s still my favourite time of year. However it’s always tinged with a sense of sadness at not being able to spend it with my parents, brother, nieces, and the extended family. I recall walking around Tesco one year and my eyes filling up with tears when the piped in music blared out ‘Driving home for Christmas’ by Chris Rhea. I was instantly reminded of when my brother and I were kids excitedly hanging our stockings at the foot of our beds which was the done thing before leaving for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. But unlike the ornate and sometimes oversized variety that can be found today, we use to simply look for the biggest ones to hand. Usually it would be my dads old badminton socks that had been though the washing machine a thousand times and stretched wide enough to fit a yeti!
Being a multi cultural society, every home has their own way of celebrating, but in my Eurasian family the fun begins after midnight mass. Presents are opened followed by a huge feast with an east meets west theme. The ‘west’ influence is courtesy of our English, Dutch, and Portuguese heritage when colonisation led to marriage. For this reason turkey would take centre stage at the dining table as it would here, but unlike the usual trimmings, it would be surrounded by curries, rice, stir fried vegetables, salad, chicken pie and macaroni cheese believe it or not. The chicken pie is very traditionally Eurasian and a must at the table. It’s a dish of rich chicken stew with whole spices, veg, and encased in short crust pastry. I can’t really explain the significance of the Mac and cheese and intend to see if my mum can shed some light. Another major player is Chicken Devil curry or ‘chicken debal’ which is fiery and rich. It would incredibly odd to waltz into a Eurasian home and find this curry absent.
Sweets would be rich fruit cake, cookies of all types and pineapple jam tarts which is our version of mince pies. A laborious task from making the jam to the pastry, it would be produced in vast quantities and saved in air tight containers to last the whole season.
In my family we would take turns to host the eve gathering and whilst the host’s responsibility is the turkey, everyone would make a contribution until the table is at bursting point. Merriment would continue well into the early hours of the morning ending in over indulgence and collapsing into bed. When the big day itself dawns there’s an ‘open house’ concept with non Christian friends visiting for a drink and a bite to eat.
In present times the open house thing has slowly faded with most families opting for holidays away or just spending it amongst themselves. It’s still not uncommon though to throw a party on an allocated date for friends to attend. The drinking, eating and partying continues well into the 2nd of January until everyone is well and truly spent!
Whilst I’m looking forward to this period of intense gaiety, spending quality time with loved ones is all that’s important to me. I would be happy to even have beans on toast as long as I was surrounded by love. Look out Malaysia here I come!!!
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