My little family is so fortunate to be (almost) truly Malaysian. We get to celebrate almost every major festivity save for Deepavali and my hope is that Zara will grow up being grateful for her colourful heritage in this country we call home.
Although I don't technically celebrate Christmas anymore, my parents still do and Naz and I consider it our duty to ensure Zara grows up respecting other beliefs and the celebrations that come with them. And so it was that this year for Christmas, we found ourselves in Klang at my parents' home, sitting around a lovely, real and very fragrant Christmas tree (thank you Ikea!) with my family and cats, the way I'd always done growing up.
Christmas has always been special to my family, not because we were very religious, but because over the years, we'd developed some special traditions that may perhaps have been laughable to others but were dear to us, and those traditions gave us something to look forward to, to bond over and cherish as time went by.
...Like the little notes my brother has left for Santa since we were kids, along with a glass of milk (or brandy, depending on the mood!) and a cookie or two; of course, not forgetting a bowl full of nuts for the reindeer! We'd wake up on Christmas morning to miraculously discover the glass emptied, the cookies half eaten and the nuts devoured, replaced by a huge bowl of candy! Joy!
...And how every year until our senior cat Teddy passed on, there was always a special tin of cat food wrapped for him under the Christmas tree. There, he would take pride of place next to his gift, outfitted in his traditional Christmas bow, until the present was opened for him to enjoy later in the evening.
...Of course, the necessary procession of gift giving, accompanied by the silly photos my mother would take of our expressions as we registered the contents of our wrapping paper. Once the mayhem was over, the cats would have a field day chasing the wrappers all over the house.
...Christmas lunch would usually be chocolate (!), because we'd been eating them all morning anyway, and be too stuffed to prepare a proper lunch!
...Christmas dinner was always Mum's homecooked turkey with good old canned Cranberry sauce, stuffing on the side and a variety of different salads that were my responsibility to prepare. Every year, Yean would be put in charge of the table setting and Dad would wash the glasses and prepare the patio.
...Flaming Christmas pudding... the highlight of my evening! Not because it tasted great, but how cool is a pudding doused in Grand Marnier and set on fire!
Finally and most importantly, there's always been a feeling, a special excitement that comes with the season that I can't explain. It's not the gifts, or the carols (anyone who knows me well will be aware of my utter distaste for Christmas jingles!), or even the candy. Heck, it's not even the fantastic smelling tree!
It's just that tingle that I get when I look around me after all the guests have left and realise that although we're all grown up now (and my parents are greyer, their friends older, and their tolerance for alcohol weaker), our Christmas has essentially remained the same, the spirit is the same, the laughter the same and the love, the same! The family may have grown bigger, thanks to Naz and Zara, but so has the bond.
That's why despite all the ho-ho-hoo-hah about how we shouldnt be 'celebrating' festivities other than our own, I say we should just do what ever brings us closer together. It's not about our religious beliefs, or the food and drink that we can and cannot share, it's about keeping the bonds of family traditions alive.
And, in the spirit of Christmas, here's a little collection of memories from Zara's first of many Christmases with her Ah Kong, Nana and Uncle Yean...
Our Christmas tree... no, not the one on the left!
Zara 'helping' to put the star on the Christmas tree.
The tree... dressed and all ready for Christmas!
Christmas eve: Uncle Yean with Duster under the tree.
Christmas Eve: Duster waits patiently for morning...
Zara gets a Christmas kiss from Abah
Zara surveying the post gift-giving damage.
Zara and Ah Kong share a similar taste in hair accessories!
One for the album!