It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... even here in the tropics. Despite the lack of snow, warm clothes and raging fires, the departmental stores are in full-swing with plastic trees, fake snow and bling baubles.
Christmas is a very nostalgic time for our family, so I'd like to take this time to tell you a little about my Christmases past and present. I'm writing this in installments, as there are a lot of memories to put down. Look out for recipes at the end of some of the installments. Happy reading!
There is something very comforting about gathering once a year with family near and far. It reminds me of a long-gone era. A time when life was simpler and money was tight. When luxury was a word that came and went with Christmas every year leaving a long period of frugality from January to November until December next.
Christmas meant a long trek to my grandparents home in Taiping, a damp, sleepy hollow of a town where time seems to stand still even now. There was no such thing as the NKVE (North Klang Valley Expressway) then. Everyone travelled up north via the snaking 'trunk' road built by the colonial rajahs during the time Malaya was a British colony. (On good days, no one got sick from the winding journey. On bad days... oh oh.)
All my maternal cousins would gather in Taiping. It was our 'balik kampung' and annual get-together. We would run round the new village house playing Police & Thieves, 'masak-masak' with an old iron cooking set and played board games like Snakes & Ladders, Ludo, etc. We ate rambutans from the red-ant infested trees in the compound, drove the maids up the wall (but they loved us anyway, hehehehe) and ate all the delicious morsels of food our patti (grandmother) used to cook.
Some of the dishes included fish cutlets, black pepper beef, crab curry, prawns and potato fry, sura meen puttu, dosas, idlis, dhall curry, fish curry with ladies' fingers and many other delights.
Christmas presents were wrapped late at night by the adults, long after the children had gone to bed. Okay, okay... so I wasn't an angel then. I remember sneaking out of bed, listening at the closed door of the bedroom to the murmur of adult voices catching up with each other... and finally when curiosity just couldn't keep me away anymore, exposing myself to the adults and getting a scolding for being out of bed so late. I would pester them to let me see my presents. (I did say I wasn't angel didn't I?) My youngest Aunt always gave in.
The night of Christmas eve was spent in church. I remember being very scared every time I was told to sit at the end of the pew closest to the doors on the side of the church. Why? This church is OLD. It is also surrounded by a graveyard. There was no air-conditioning then, so during the Christmas church service at midnight the doors along the sides would stand open. Wide open. Looking out of them meant looking out on nothing, because everything was pitch black... except that you KNEW there was a graveyard outside. Yikes!
To be continued.