Growing up, and all through college, we would spend Christmas time each year up in the winter whites of Whistler mountain, or at home at Oma’s or mom’s place in Vancouver, bonding while snowboarding and over many bottles of wine and home cooked meals (I did get my cooking chops from my mother’s side of the family, Opa was a chef on one of those traveling trains, and it was his cooking prowess that saved him from the fate of most German POWs after WWII – landing him a cushy position as a chef in the British officer’s mess, instead of on the other side with the Russians). The tree would be decked by whichever kid ended school the earliest and flew up North, and Oma would always put up the stockings and the stuffers.
Our days were spent tearing up the slopes and sipping hot chocolate in between, evenings were about board games beside the fire, watching movies while curled up like cats on the couch, or when we were much, much younger, being dressed up in tartan colours and carolling in front of doting aunts and jolly old uncles we only saw once a year. On Christmas eve, we would always gather to have dinner together, a sumptuous feast piled high on a long buffet table that mom or Oma would set up on the side of the dining room – there would be roast turkey and a Christmas ham and brussel sprouts, smoked salmon and petit fours and mince pies, slow cooked winter vegetables and gravy and mash, a hearty soup of sorts and pasta for the boys who were never full, and we would wash it all down with champagne and mulled wine. A meal shared by sisters, brothers, parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents, step-grandparents, neighbours and more often than not, a visitor or two. It was always a riotous affair that would run late into the night with gift exchanges, good-natured ribbing and maybe a round or two of Taboo – the night always earned us a chance to sleep in when Christmas morning came.
Things are different now. With work, and school, and pilot training classes, future jobs and families that will take us to new places and pull us further apart, it’s almost impossible for us to end up back at mom’s each Christmas. There will be lucky years where we will all make it up there, +1s and future children in tow, but it will not be so often, especially when there are in-laws to consider. This Christmas was the first of its kind, all three of us siblings in Singapore for the season, and we thought why not make a new tradition together, just us three – a generation of our own – and it began with Christmas brunch on Christmas morning.
There's a passage in Volume 6 of Kinfolk that talks about the making of new Christmas traditions and of passing on the mantle:
Or, we can take traditions into our homes, draw them through the sieve of our personalities, sprinkle them with whimsy, and mold them to our own relationships. In doing so, we hold respectful ownership of the season, where it cannot exist outside of us. Indeed, we are the daring captains of wonder and nearness in this time. And through our efforts, the holidays become intensely intimate, a seasonal experience tailored and defined by us who celebrate – our friends, our families, (and someday) our own children.
So we woke early on Christmas morning (my siblings to wrap presents and me to cook the meal), and sat down to our very first Christmas brunch together. There was roast beef and smoked salmon on blinis, caviar for the scrambled eggs and baked potatoes, bacon-stuffed mushrooms and asparagus and foie gras with fig chutney on toast. Gravy for everything, and champagne to celebrate the birth of something new.
Our gift exchange was small by most years’ standards – just presents for my siblings, and from them to me, and from us to our helpers and our four furry friends. We sat on the sofa soaking up the 176 song-long Christmas playlist we compiled, and made plans for the future. In that one afternoon, we caught up on an entire year while polishing off more bubbly, jumped around in a poncho from Peru (the Mayans were the original creators of the snuggie) sent over by Niall (our brother from another mother) and enjoyed a rare Russian liquor our resourceful friend had found on his travels.
We divvied up the holidays (in the event we don’t make it back to the parents’ places) – I get Christmas/Thanksgiving because at present I’m the only one who can manage a turkey, my brother CNY, and my sister wants Halloween (though we tried to tell her it wasn’t a real holiday) and/or Autumn Festival (mooncakes and lanterns and the like). We talked about the traditions we wanted to keep alive (making future children dress up in tartan and carol in front of half-strangers and relatives was up there on my list), and dreamed about a shared holiday home up in the mountains where our future clan would gather for the season to bake cookies, carol, drink cider, watch movies, ski and roast the turkey or the beef. It was a peaceful, cosy little Christmas.
It’s all sounds very idyllic, I know. And perhaps all this will never come to fruition, but as children of divorced parents who live on opposite sides of the world, it’s nice to know that there are two other people for me to share my life with who want the same things I do and are willing to work towards it. Two other people bound to me by blood and years of shared laughter, heartbreak and common experiences. A bond made stronger by all those fights we had growing up, and being forced to make up over and over again. You learn to forgive a lot of things that way. You also learn that siblings are the only ones who will be there at every step of the way in life, from the time we’re born to when we’re buried. With the will of three (very strong headed and stubborn) people behind this little dream, it might come true one day, and even if it doesn’t, it’s the celebration of this kind of love through our own traditions that I look forward to this time each year.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, filled with traditions new and old, in the company of loved ones and friends. Here's wishing you a beautiful and blessed 2013 ahead!