I'm attempting to make mince pies for the very first time. I never liked them growing up but was lured by the bottles of Robertson's mincemeat filling on sale at Whole Foods. My sister Molly once said that our mother's mince pies were really good. My mother began to make them for the family Christmas gatherings after I left Singapore in 1996.
In her dying days that mid November of 2001, she kept asking her doctors if she would make it home for Christmas. I often dwell on those conversations, especially during this time of the year. It seemed to me that my mother enjoyed Christmas a lot, perhaps more so than Chinese New Year which I had come to associate her with. Alas, I have not been back to Singapore to spend Christmas with my family for more than a decade. The family Christmas parties have since evolved into an even more wonderful evening when the nieces and nephews, now all grown up, are called to participate in Aunty Mol's bingo games, complete with prizes galore which she takes much pride to assemble. Each sister would contribute something - Beng would still roast the turkey, Maggie would order the beef from the club and Nancy would make the salad. According to one niece, they all know when I will call - in the midst of the buffet - much to their consternation because they want to get on with the celebrations and move on to the games.
My husband's job requires him to spend the week between Christmas and New Year at work, so over time I have created all our nuclear family's little traditions from visiting the Rockefeller tree on Christmas morning, followed by the opening of presents. We invite church friends on the eve and then, cook another meal or more for many other friends throughout the week.
Inevitably, I think of the snippets of memory. As a 12 year old, rushing to Siglap Market to buy cheap earrings - same style, different fake stones - for my five sisters, then wrapping them in white typing paper. Each parcel was so small, it got lost amidst the white pebbles around the Christmas tree. I also remember longing for the Kodak instamatic camera because every kid I knew had one. And surprise! Molly gave it to me that Christmas. These days, I send home presents for my five sisters. Same item, different colors, be they wallets or Longchamp bags. And this year, I added 8 pounds of beef tenderloin and 10 pounds of ham to boot, bullying my niece's boyfriend to carry them home and impress the family with his helpfulness.
My parents used to take me to their friends' home for Christmas lunch. Aunty and Uncle Brown laid out a fabulous Eurasian spread with poached salmon, ham, fruit cake and curry devil. My sister Beng somewhat 'institutionalized' Christmas within our family after her return from London in 1979. She of 'butter under the armpits, bacon across the breast' turkey roasting fame. She brought back all the traditions I continue with these days, Christmas pudding (from Harrods preferably), ham, Brussels sprouts and eggnog. Tomorrow, I will be serving poached salmon, honey baked ham and pudding because they remind me of my childhood.
The fact that my nieces make it a point to fly home for Christmas, whether from Oxford or New York, illustrates to me that Christmas at home is the high point of their family reunion. I may miss it this year, but the celebration reassures me that my mother's legacy lives on to the next generation. Merry Christmas.