Come December, the most magical time of the year begins. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the air is filled with anticipation, for children and adults alike. Every family usually follows their very own Christmas traditions. We asked a couple of Jakarta-based foreigners about their most beloved Christmas memories.
Sari Pan Pacific Jakarta
Having grown up in Sydney, Australia the Christmas period is a very special time – particularly when you are young. Being with family and friends and awaiting Father Christmas coming on December 25th is magical and exciting.
For many years, my family would meet at our Nana’s home for three to four nights. It was a great to time to see my cousins and get up to lots of mischief. There would be plenty of food and drinks. Roast dinners – beef or lamb – were my favorites, or a BBQ at the beach.
One of my most beloved memories is when Father Christmas brought a train set. For months, I had been hoping and wishing for a train set just like that one. I still remember that I woke up hearing a lot of noise from the living room. I was six years old at the time, and it was Christmas eve, so I was really excited to find out what exactly it was. I remember going to the landing quietly and looking down the stairs. There, at the base of the stairs was Father Christmas, or rather who I thought at the time was him. I ran back to my room and jumped into bed. It was only many years later that I spoke to my mum about this to find out it was an employee of the toy company who was installing the train set. It was pure coincidence that they wore red jackets!
Christmas means being with family and friends, having your loved ones around you. Of course there is also good food and drinks, and since I am Australian, it also means watching the traditional Boxing Day Test, a cricket test match that is held every year on December 26th!
Chef Gilles Marx
I grew up in Alsace in Eastern France, a region bordering with Germany, known for its great gastronomy and wines, beautiful flowered villages, hot summers and cold winters. We usually had a snowy, white Christmas.
The Christmas mood built up slowly, beginning in early December. I used to have an advent calendar, a Christmas-themed calendar with 24 windows and small chocolates hidden behind it, so we could open one window every day – this helped us to shorten the long wait for Christmas. During that time, my mum would also start baking the famous Alsatian Christmas cookies, sometimes up to 15 different kinds, and she served them until after New Year’s every time someone visited.
On December 6, we celebrated St. Nicolas Day which parents mostly used to instill some good behaviour into their kids as they were getting closer to Christmas. If we behaved well – and only then! – we received mandarins or oranges and gingerbread covered in white sugar glazing.
Decorating the Christmas tree was a family affair, with everyone lending a hand. My dad always picked a pine tree from the back yard, put it into a pot with wet sand and brought it to the living room so we could all help decorate it, and – over the next days and weeks – place our gifts below it.
On Christmas Eve, we all went to church together and had dinner when we returned, mostly composing of cold cuts, salad, crudités, a hot soup and desserts. After dinner, we gathered around the tree to sing Christmas carols and then, finally, the presents were distributed.
On the 25th, we all went to church again, except for my mum who prepared a full French lunch, with an aperitif, usually Champagne, and some canapes followed by smoked salmon, foie gras and salads and fish in white wine sauce. As main course, we usually had a roasted venison leg with some sautéed wild mushrooms, Brussels sprouts from our garden and pomme croquette. Afterwards, there was the cheese platter. All of the courses were accompanied by wine from my dad’s cellar. We then continued with dessert, coffee, tea and cake, and to finish, the famous home-brewed Alsatian Eau de vie and Christmas cookies.
In the next two weeks, until the end of the school holidays, we visited or welcomed family members and friends and simply enjoyed good food, good wine and good company around a warm fireplace, the Christmas tree and Christmas songs filling the air.
Country Director British Council Indonesia
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, growing up in multicultural Birmingham in the English Midlands, my youth resonated with a fanfare of religious festivals from Muslim Eid to Hindu Diwali. But Christmas was the undoubted highlight of my own family’s festive calendar and, probably because of the austerities of a somewhat puritanically Protestant upbringing, the sudden colour, generosity and wilful materialism of the Christmas season defined 25 December as the most magical day of the year.
60 years and 12 countries later, Christmas is still the celebration which brings such happiness and creates most meaning for my family, especially living in an Indonesia rightly proud of its tolerance of religions, its pluralism, its captivating diversity. My wife hails from India’s Gujarat and my kids are pretty much ‘global citizens’ after childhoods in four continents, but Christmas is always the abiding annual feature which keeps us all together.
So here in Jakarta I am currently engaged in my one yearly feat of cooking as I create a Christmas pudding with certain inevitable recipe gaps (does anyone know where I might source candied peel and barley wine in Kemang?). We are on the prowl for a turkey and we’ll just have to grin and bear the cost of an imported Stilton. But a merry Christmas it will be anyway – as it has always been since I was a child.