When it comes to Christmas, I think of the warmth of a fireplace, the silence of snow-blanketed landscapes and the romantic twinkle of fairy lights. They’re all things I’ve grown up watching on TV, so when it comes to Christmas in the tropics, it’s seemingly worlds apart.
Yes, we find ourselves in Malaysia. We celebrate Christmas at a sticky average of 32 degrees celsius, but the sentiments are ultimately the same. The glittering decorations, the festive songs, the gift giving, quality time with friends and family. And who can forget the feasts? It essentially boils down to love, togetherness and stuffing our faces.
We have our differences though! Instead of chilly, outdoor Christmas markets in France or Germany, we spend our time in air-conditioned shopping malls decked with creative displays and glitzy lights, taking selfies with that impressive Christmas tree in the foyer. The end of year sales entice consumers to “Buy this now!” and “Get the perfect gift for your loved ones!”, but instead of stockings and scarves, we’re buying batik and Boh Tea gift sets. And don’t get me started on IKEA…Hello, Sinnlig scented tealights, why do I need so many of you? Because you smell like nutmeg and vanilla. That’s why.
Our determination to really make it feel like Christmas (despite being so close to the equator) is extraordinary, dare I say it…unparalleled? I’ve heard of people importing real 6-foot pine trees from Norway, spritzing eau de gingerbread around their homes, and ordering presents from halfway around the world. I have a friend who hosts a massive Christmas party every year, without fail. He invites friends and family into his beautifully decorated home, gives everybody thoughtful gifts, and cooks up a storm. By midnight, we’re singing our hearts out on the karaoke machine.
Speaking of cooking up storms, my my my, the food we have! Imagine a marriage of Western and Asian flavours – sure, we do turkey, but have you ever had turkey marinated with Asian herbs like lemongrass, star anise and ginger? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Seafood for Christmas? YAS QUEEN, gimme summa that! Oh, and have you heard of durian Yule logs? Yeah, that’s a thing. It’s a good, goooooood thing.
But one of the most distinct things I’ve noticed is that, here, Christmas is celebrated by people of all creeds and cultures. No matter our ethnicity, we’re gonna wish each other a very Merry Christmas. We’re gonna put up trees with all the bells and whistles, participate wholeheartedly in Secret Santa, have potluck dinners and exchange heartfelt gifts with our loved ones. We set aside our personal differences and celebrate as one, no matter the occasion. Perhaps it’s the climate, but for me, Christmas in Malaysia is warmer than any fireplace I’ve ever come across.