Cherished Christmas Memories

Christmas has always been a very special time for me and I agree with the song-writer that, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Christmas Day party at our home in Jalan Dato Wilson;
Dad is holding me [Front row Left] distracted by a present!
When we were kids, the magic of Christmas simply means new clothes and lots of presents and toys.  Our parents had a tradition of hosting a Christmas party and we always had a gathering in our home on Christmas Day.

I must confess that I cannot remember much of the celebrations held at our hospital quarters home at Jalan Dato Wilson when I was just a toddler. 

But old photos of Christmas parties held there showed how the small house was cramped with people but everyone was smiling because they were having so much fun.  One of the most memorable Christmas days here was when the hospital compound was flooded due to a super-high tide and monsoon rains!

In those days, we made our own entertainment and dad would organise games for everyone – both young and old – to join in.

My brother in the arms of great-grandmother [Seated]
on the swing in our home at Larkin Gardens
One of the most popular games was “Passing the Parcel” where someone played music for the parcel to be passed around and when the music stopped, the person holding the parcel had to do a forfeit.

Dad would write out the penalty in a slip of paper hidden inside each layer of the wrapping paper and when this person unwrapped one of the multiple layers of the parcel, he or she had to read the forfeit aloud and then do what was written there. 

He was always giving simple forfeits like “act like a monkey, “leap like a frog” or “sing a favourite song.”  It may seem simple to us now but it was often intimidating and rather embarrassing for the child or adult to do that forfeit, watched by an avid audience!

When we moved into our home in Larkin Gardens, we continued to host annual Christmas day parties with mum doing the food catering and dad organizing the games and entertainment.  

All dressed up in Christmas dresses, the three sisters on
dad's car [Far Left] with our guests at Larkin Gardens
Looking at the old photos of our Christmas parties in Larkin, I realise that it was an occasion for all the generations in the extended family to gather for a huge bash.  Considering the number of guests, I guess our parents certainly knew how to be good hosts!

Mum was definitely a good cook and clever caterer. 

I remember the only out-sourced food item in our annual parties was a traditional steamed Malay kueh made by a makcik filled with grated coconut in a perfect balance of Gula Melaka and rice flour, wrapped in banana leaves.  This kueh became a staple item at our annual parties and our guests always looked forward to savouring it, even after we moved away from Larkin.

My sisters and I with our Christmas
presents; That's me with my giant doll!
My brother and I enjoyed helping dad to set up the Christmas tree.  While we were not allowed to touch the string of lights, I was thrilled to hang up the ornaments in the lower part of the tree.  Dad always bought Christmas crackers that were filled with some novelty and he would hang them up using a rubber band or length of thread. 

I was probably too young to help in other preparations and remember just sitting pretty in my new dress that usually felt awfully uncomfortable but I went along with it because I was cooperating and being a good girl at Christmas!

Mum had a tradition of buying my siblings and me one new outfit for Christmas which would double up as the new clothes we would wear for the next Chinese New Year. 

At that time, Johor Baru did not have a decent store to shop for dresses that met my mum’s taste so we always made an annual trip to Singapore’s Chinatown where our clothes were picked from a department store that had a good selection of children’s clothes.

Christmas eve with our aunts in our home in Masai;
Check out my giant doll, still in a place of pride here! 
I must say that mum had good taste in picking out clothes for us and often chose identical outfits but in different colours for her three girls.  It was probably a few years later that she could no longer find the same dress design in our sizes that she started to buy us different dresses for Christmas!

While the new dresses were to be worn on Christmas day, mum would also give us new pajamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve.  The sets of pretty cotton pajamas that mum bought for us from the Chinese Emporium, would also be of the same design but were distinguished by colours like pastel blue, pink and green.

One of my most favourite gifts ever was a giant doll that had eyes with long lashes that opened and shut when it was lying down.  It was a gift from Ah Kong or grandfather and I treasured it for many years until its rubbery “skin” grew mouldy with age and I finally could no longer keep it.

It was only recently that mum told me the story about this doll from Ah Kong.  The lovely doll was a gift which I so enjoyed that it became the envy of a girl cousin who happens to be an only daughter.  She badly wanted a doll like this so Ah Kong finally got the hint and bought her a similar one!

When our parents were transferred to work with the Health Sub-Centre in Masai, we continued to host Christmas parties in our staff quarters home there.  It was an adventure for our relatives and guests to make their way to Masai because it was quite a journey by the old road in those days before the Pasir Gudang Highway was constructed.

Aunty Polly disguised in her version of Santa
at our Christmas party in Masai
The year-end monsoon season always coincided with Christmas and I remember one year when it rained so heavily that the road between JB and Masai was flooded and impassable for cars.  Only lorries and buses could safely drive through the flood waters.

In spite of the rain, we made our annual trip into Singapore to buy our Christmas outfits and on the return, discovered that we could not drive back to Masai.  I can never forget the adventure we had to make our way home because it was probably the first time we went on a public bus.

Dad must have parked his car at our grandparents’ home at Jalan Ngee Heng while we took the bus back and along the way, I must have fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion. 

All I remember of that night was the light drizzle when we got down from the bus at the foot of the hill next to the Post Office in Masai, and how we walked up the hill with dad carrying me piggy-back to our home within the compound of the Health Sub-Centre.

An outburst of joy at our Christmas party!
One of my most treasured memories of Christmases in Masai must be the Christmas eves when our aunts came to stay overnight with us.  They were still single then and we, the children of their eldest sister, were on the receiving end of their love and generosity.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, we would shower and dress in our new pajamas and enjoy looking at the gaily wrapped gifts that our parents, Aunty Annie, Aunty Polly and Aunty Sylvia, had put under the Christmas tree.  

There would be a lot of shaking and squeezing of the parcels to guess its contents because we have a tradition of keeping the gifts wrapped until all guests have left at the end of Christmas day. 

The fun of having our aunts sleeping over with us usually kept us awake till later than our usual bedtime but it was all part of the Christmas Eve tradition when we lived in Masai.

I will never forget how Aunty Polly would quietly disappear during the peak of the party on Christmas day and emerge with cotton wool on her face and wrapped in the only red item she could find – the reverse side of a quilt sewn by great-grandmother for my brother – in an attempt to be Santa!  This never failed to thrill the youngsters and set off much laughter among the guests.

Some of our guests at the "Where did you get that hat?"
themed Christmas party in Larkin
After being based in Masai for 13 years, dad retired from government service and we moved back to Larkin Gardens.  Our Christmas parties continued annually with mum doing the food catering for a few more years until catering services became popular and we opted for catered food to let mum take a break from the kitchen.

After dad showed me the ropes in setting up the fairy lights, I gradually took over the setting up the Christmas tree.  As we continued the tradition of hosting a Christmas gathering to share the joy of the reason why we celebrate the season, I also took over his tradition of sending out Christmas cards from his list. 

I enjoyed organising the Christmas party with a free hand in deciding on the various themes while the promise of a prize for the best dressed girl or guy always encouraged good participation.  It was just good fun and among the various themes we enjoyed was, “Where did you get that hat?” where guests were invited to come wearing a hat. 

If guests did not have a hat of their own, we provided party hats or other caps and hats for everyone to wear a hat during the party.  It was amusing to see guests arriving with all manner of hats and even the senior members of the family were such good sports to come decked out in hats!

That young "pirate" [on my Right] cousin Ryan, won the prize
for being the Best Dressed Guy in our "P-Party"
For the “Buttons and Bows” theme, guests came in with outfits that featured buttons and bows.  Some created outfits and accessories with buttons and bows and everyone tried to show off every small button to claim that they did follow the theme.

For the “Purple Party” I arranged to serve food and drinks that were purple in colour, wrapped gifts in purple coloured paper and tied them with purple ribbons – and everyone came dressed in all shades of purple!

The “Flower Power” theme party was quite easy to get into as guests came dressed in outfits with flowery prints or flower accessories.  I remember how two of my girl cousins stole the show with their beautiful Hawaii style outfits complete with flower garlands on their heads, necks and wrists!

LJW, the other "pirate" and me, comparing
our anchor designed tattoos 
My personal favourite was our “P-Party” not because my name starts with “P” but because guests did so well in coming as characters starting with the alphabet “P.”

Among the “P” characters who turned up at our party that year were a pharaoh, a princess, a pedestrian, a prefect, a Punjabi, a Polka-Dot girl, a few punk rockers and two pirates.  Everyone truly deserved a prize for the effort they put into dressing up as a “P” personality!

Of course we always had a few party games which everyone had fun taking part or watching.  Besides dad’s favourite game of “Passing the Parcel,” I devised speed eating/drinking contests and singing talent contests for participants to win prizes.

One of the most unforgettable incidents was when a boy cousin stood up to sing a song that was then rather popular on the radio.  At first, we could hardly recognise the tune of, “Top of the World,” because he shocked us by singing in a strange falsetto voice!

After my brother’s son was born, we broke tradition to spend Christmas away from home for a change.  It was an excursion to transport the family and the festive trimmings all the way to a resort near Malacca for a weekend stay but it was still a memorable time together.

Dad with his grandson, Brendon, at our
Christmas in A'Formosa Resort
As our parents advanced in age, we decided to host our Christmas party at my brother’s home with a catered meal for an ever increasing number of guests.  I guess everyone would remember the highlight of the meal which was the carving of the delicious roasted turkey and leg of lamb we ordered from George & Dragon Café.

A few years ago, my brother and his family relocated to Kuala Lumpur for work and studies and since then our Christmas celebrations were scaled down to small gatherings with the immediate family.  The short time with my brother’s family when they came home for Christmas, made our family reunions ever more precious.

But Christmas will never be the same again after dad’s passing early this year.  While we love and miss dad dearly, we treasure our memories and the legacy of family togetherness at Christmas.  The message of “Peace on earth, goodwill to man,” has a special meaning as it echoes the peace we have knowing that dad has gone to be with the Prince of Peace.

As I’m writing this, the radio is playing music from a popular station and when a Christmas carol is sung by a pop group, I pause to listen.  I recognise it as, “Mary’s Boy Child,” and the truth in the lyrics repeated in its chorus, “And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas day,” is deeply reassuring.

Gone are the days of large groups coming to celebrate with us in our humble home but we certainly have many cherished memories of Christmases that we still fondly talk about.  

So have a blessed Christmas and make more memories with your loved ones! 

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